Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court Tani Cantil-Sakauye discuss how the U.S. Constitution plays a day-to-day role in decision making, the current budget battle in the state, and what it's like to be the top judge for an entire state.

Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court Tani Cantil-Sakauye spoke to a packed room in the Vereschagin Alumni House on Constitution Day - Sept. 17. She was invited by the Pacific Legal Scholars.

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Supreme Court Chief Justice Demystifies Life as a Judge

Tani Cantil-Sakauye discuss how the U.S. Constitution plays a day-to-day role in decision making, the current budget battle in the state, and what it's like to be the top judge for an entire state
by Patrick GiblinSep 21, 2012

Students and the community received an unusual treat this Constitution Day:  They heard what life was like on California's Supreme Court directly from the chief justice herself.

Students in Pacific's Legal Scholars Program were joined by other Pacific students, faculty and community members to hear Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court Tani Cantil-Sakauye discuss how the U.S. Constitution plays a day-to-day role in decision making, the current budget battle in the state, and what it's like to be the top judge.

While the students were interested in the legal and administrative discussions, they were mostly fascinated with how a person juggles being the chief justice-and a mother of two teen-aged daughters.

"The way she described a typical day made it sound a lot less clinical than what the text books say," said Kate Fisher '15, a global studies major. "It was really more grounded in reality than I initially imagined. Hearing her speak was a unique opportunity."

Travis Bissell '15, a philosophy major said that he, too, was impressed by how she managed her daily tasks, which included everything from arguing positions for cases that were heard by the California Supreme Court and discussing court budgets with Gov. Jerry Brown to making sure she gets time in the gym every morning and at least two nights a week with her family. 

"She is definitely busy, but hearing how she does it made it seem manageable," he said. "It made me want to do that for a living too."

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye launched her presentation with the observation that the U.S. Constitution is the only national constitution that starts with the phrase "we the people."

"Words are very important," she said. "Very few constitutions start with the word 'we,' and this was our founding fathers' way of saying it was about us, our government. We chose to identify with 'we' and we chose to be a country that follows the rule of law, not the rule of a czar, queen or a dictator."

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye also described the process on how the California Supreme Court makes decisions, and spoke about her frustrations with how California's courts are funded. She said the court system is one of the three main branches of government and is responsible ultimately for defining and upholding California's laws, but it only receives 2.1 percent of the state's budget, a cut of nearly one third during the past five years.

"The courts have to do more with less," she said. "We are cutting the budget for justice for 38 million Californians, yet the justice system has no control over its work load. If someone gets arrested or a lawsuit is filed, we will take it, regardless of how much work we have. It just means we will take longer to hear the case, and justice delayed is justice denied."

She also spoke about her background as a Filipina who grew up "picking fruits and vegetables in the fields," and also discussed how she manages to find personal and family time during her busy schedule.

"I am in the gym and on the treadmill at 5:30 every morning," Cantil-Sakauye said. "I tell people that I used to run for my vanity. Now I run for my sanity. I need that time for myself."

"I'm only four weeks into school and I got to see the executive director of a branch of one of our three state branches," remarked Joseph Butler '16, an international relations major. "I learned a lot, including how the three branches of government interact with each other. It was great to hear how government is constantly evolving."

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye is the 28th Chief Justice of California. She was nominated by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for California's highest judicial office on July 22, 2010. She came to campus at the invitation of Pacific Legal Scholars Program and the Jacoby Center.

"This really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many of these students," said Professor Cynthia Ostberg, director of the Pacific Legal Scholars program and professor of Political Science. "Judge Cantil-Sakauye brought the position of being a judge to life for the people in the room.  She didn't just quote legal texts and wax philosophic about the role of law, but rather openly and honestly expressed real challenges, frustrations and rewards that can be found in the legal system. I think she really helped demystify what it is that the state Supreme Court does."

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye wasn't the only high court justice to visit Pacific this month. At the Pacific McGeorge school of Law in Sacramento, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy made a surprise visit to a classroom and lectured on Constitutional Law. See more: http://www.mcgeorge.edu/News/Kennedys_Surprise_Visit_Thrills_Constitutional_Law_Students.htm.