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Davis, California

Friday, October 15, 2021

UC Davis alumna nominated to California Supreme Court

Even the Terminator realizes the power of the Aggies.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger nominated UC Davis graduate Tani Cantil-Sakauye as the next chief justice of the California Supreme Court.

Cantil-Sakauye currently serves as an associate judge for the Third District Court of Appeals in Sacramento. If approved by voters on the Nov. 2 ballot, Cantil-Sakauye would be the first Asian American California Supreme Court chief justice.

“It is a privilege and a tremendous honor to have the opportunity to serve as chief justice of the California Supreme Court. Being nominated to serve on the highest court in California is a dream come true,” Cantil-Sakauye said in a press release. “As a jurist, woman and a Filipina, I am extremely grateful for the trust Gov. Schwarzenegger has placed in me. I hope to show young people what they can achieve if they follow their dreams and reach for their full potential.”

The position in the Supreme Court became available after current Chief Justice Ronald George announced that he will retire on Jan. 2, 2011.

Cantil-Sakauye’s interest in the judicial system began with her undergraduate degree at Davis. She received a bachelor of arts in rhetoric from UC Davis in 1980 and a Juris Doctorate degree from the UC Davis School of Law in 1984.

Law School Dean Kevin Johnson said Cantil-Sakauye would make an excellent choice for chief justice.

“She has 20 years of judicial experience under her belt, and at the same time she has the kind of administrative experience with the California court system that will allow her to be an advocate for courts and to work with courts to make sure they are able to fulfill the needs of the residents of the state of California,” Johnson said.

Law professor Rex Perschbacher remembers Cantil-Sakauye as an impressive member of the very first class he taught at the law school in 1981.

“She was a hardworking, bright student,” he said. “She was young even in her class and didn’t have the depth of background other students did, but she had a great interest in law and thought law was an opportunity for her to play a role in the world, to help people looking for equality in the United States.”

After graduating from law school, Cantil-Sakauye worked as a deputy district attorney for the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office and as a deputy legal affairs secretary for the office of former Gov. George Deukmejian. She then served as a judge for the Sacramento County Municipal Court and the Sacramento County Superior Court.

Vikram Amar, associate dean for academic affairs and professor of law, said Cantil-Sakauye’s history-making appointment will be inspiring for the Asian American community.

“I think she’ll be a symbol of what’s possible. Just as the chief justice has a special role amongst the court, the chief justice also has the special role of being the ambassador of the court for the outside world,” Amar said. “So for Asian American children and law students and lawyers, it’s affirming to know that someone with their kind of life story has reached the highest level.”

Cantil-Sakauye is a Republican, though Perschbacher said she will not be a polarizing figure.

“She will be a moderate influence on the court,” he said. “There’s a big administrative job involved – she is responsible for the entire California judiciary. There, her skills will be valuable: she can work with lots of people, she’s open-minded and a good listener.”

Cantil-Sakauye has also been an active supporter of the King Hall Outreach Program (KHOP) at the UC Davis School of Law by delivering speeches and judging student work. KHOP is designed to prepare socio-economically disadvantaged and first-generation college students for the school’s admissions process.

Johnson said that Cantil-Sakauye’s nomination proves the growing reputation and achievement of the UC Davis Law School’s graduates.

“I think many people around here are feeling this nomination is an indication that the law school is coming of age. We’re about 40 years old, we have our first alumna about to be chief justice of the California Supreme Court, and more and more of our alumni are assuming leadership roles in the state,” he said. “I think people are looking at this appointment as an indication that we are really coming into our own.”

Gov. Schwarzenegger is confident that Cantil-Sakauye understands the role of a justice and will be a tremendous asset to the court.

“Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye is a living example of the American Dream,” Schwarzenegger said in a press release. “When she is confirmed by the voters in November, Judge Cantil-Sakauye will become California’s first Filipina chief justice; adding to our High Court’s already rich diversity.”

ERIN MIGDOL can be reached at features@theaggie.org.


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