Perspective on California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye Retiring

By John Seiler
John Seiler
John Seiler
John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. He has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He is a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary for California state Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at
August 1, 2022Updated: August 1, 2022


California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye announced she’s retiring on Jan. 1, 2023. The Associated Press story reported, “Cantil-Sakauye indirectly contrasted the California justices’ good working relationship to the vitriol and distrust on the U.S. Supreme Court particularly since a leak of the high court’s pending abortion decision earlier this year.”

Cantil-Sakauye herself said, “That trust and respect and collegiality … makes for, I think, why California at the high court operates so well together.”

Actually, it’s because Republican Govs. Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger were pro-choice and tried to appoint pro-choice justices with similar views to justices appointed by Democratic Govs. Gray Davis, Jerry Brown, and Gavin Newsom.

The key event was in 1996, when Wilson appointed Associate Justice Ronald George to be chief justice specifically to overturn earlier laws that restricted abortions in some cases—although abortion in general had been legal in California since 1967.

One such ruling came down in 1997. The New York Times at the time reported, “Ten years after California passed a law requiring that teen-age girls get the approval of a parent or judge before having an abortion, the measure was struck down today by the State Supreme Court.

“In a 4-to-3 decision, the court ruled that the law, which never went into effect, violated the broad right to privacy guaranteed even to minors under California’s Constitution …

“In an opinion written by the state’s Chief Justice, Ronald George, the majority noted that a series of other California statutes specifically allowed minors to make independent decisions about their own medical care.”

Then there was the same-sex marriage controversy. In 2000, California voters passed Proposition 22, which allowed marriage only between one man and one woman, 61 percent to 39 percent. But in the 2008 In re Marriage Cases decision, the state Supreme Court struck down Prop. 22. George again wrote the majority opinion.

This prompted voters that November to pass Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage, by 52 percent to 48 percent. Unlike Prop. 22, which was an ordinary statute, Prop. 8 directly added the ban to the California Constitution, precluding review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

After similar bans in other states, in 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its Obergefell decision banning limits on same-sex marriage. However, in the recent decision overturning the Roe v. Wade abortion decision of 1973, which mandated legal abortion, Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion said Obergefell and similar cases ought to be revisited, turning the matter back to the states.

It’s a typical legal mess in the modern United States. But for this article, the matter at hand is this: The supposed “collegiality” on the California Supreme Court exists only because California hasn’t had a conservative Republican governor, who appoints conservative justices to the state high court, since Gov. George Deukmejian left office in 1991—more than three decades ago.

The appointment of a new chief justice to replace Cantil-Sakauye will mean almost no difference in the court’s operations or opinions. It was a liberal court under her, and will continue to be a liberal court.

Aside from abortion and other “social issues,” the court largely has upheld the constrictions on economic liberty and property enacted by the always liberal Legislature and signed into law by liberal governors.

For example, it was the court’s 2018 Dynamex decision mandating a special, three-part “ABC test” for employers to classify workers—“gig” workers, such as Uber or truck drivers—as independent contractors. In that, it acted not as a court, but a legislature writing specific rules.

That led in 2019 to Assembly Bill 5, which imposed vast and constricting classifications on gig workers, stultifying the market. It was sponsored by then-Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, who recently became the head of the California Labor Federation, showing her true Union First loyalties.

Uber and Lyft then sponsored Proposition 22 in 2020, which passed 59 percent to 41 percent. It exempted only their workers from AB 5. A superior court later overturned it. And on June 30, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition by the California Trucking Association to overturn AB 5. But the matter might come up later.

In sum, the “collegiality” of the California Supreme Court has meant massive contention for everyone else in the state, contributing to the anti-business climate expelling businesses by the thousands and residents by the millions.

One can only imagine how the collegial court in the future will interpret such excessive mandates as Newsom’s executive order banning carbon-powered vehicles by 2035.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.