Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

CA Supreme Court Chief Justice George to retire

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who wrote the court’s majority opinion striking down the Golden State’s anti-gay marriage statutes in 2008, announced today (Wednesday, July 14) that he will not seek re-election to the bench this fall.

George will instead conclude his current term of office as the chief justice on the seven-person court come January 2, 2011, after 38 years of service on state courts. The state’s 27th chief justice, the Republican-nominated George spent 14 years in the position having been elevated to the court’s top post by GOP Governor Pete Wilson in 1996.

“It is now time for someone else to assume those responsibilities and, as I have done, to build upon the work of his or her predecessors,” stated George, who turned 70 this year.

The late GOP Governor Ronald Reagan appointed George to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1972; five years later Democratic Governor Edmund G.  Brown, Jr., named him to a seat on the Los Angeles Superior Court. GOP Governor George Deukmejian then appointed George to the Court of Appeal in 1987, and Wilson tapped him for an associate justice seat on the Supreme Court in 1991.

As the state’s top court’s chief justice George oversaw several advancements in LGBT rights. In addition to his court’s ruling two years ago that the state had no valid reason to restrict marriage rights to heterosexual couples, George’s court also upheld parental rights for LGBT people when it heard three cases involving lesbian mothers.

In another closely watched case, the George court ruled unanimously in 2006 that Berkeley could restrict access to its public facilities from groups that do not abide by its nondiscrimination policies. The case involved a local chapter of the Sea Scouts, a maritime affiliate of the Boy Scouts of America, which prohibits openly gay people from serving as scout leaders.

But his court also struck a blow to the LGBT community’s fight for marriage equality when it ruled in 2009 that voters had the right to strike down the court’s pro-same-sex marriage ruling the year prior by passing Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment that restricted marriage in California to solely between a man and a woman.

The ruling did however uphold as valid the 18,000 marriages performed prior to Prop 8’s passage in November of 2008.

“Heading California’s judicial branch and its efforts to carry out our mission of providing fair and accessible justice to all Californians has been a particularly rewarding experience during these times of great challenge, opportunity, and reform,” stated George. “My gratitude extends literally to thousands of persons — judges, court executives, lawyers and others — for their service on the Judicial Council, on its many advisory committees and task forces, and in the Administrative Office of the Courts, in strengthening the quality, independence, and accountability of our judiciary as a co-equal, separate branch of government.”

Under California’s judicial system, George was to have sought re-election to another 12-year term as chief justice on the November General Election ballot in what is known as a retention race. George, however, determined it was time to retire.

“Reflection convinced me now is the right time — while I am at the top of my game — to leave while the proverbial music still plays, and return to private life,” stated George, adding that “the prospect of leisure time devoted to family, reading, and travel is irresistible at this point in my life.  Seventy years is not an age too old for a person to occupy the office I hold; at the same time, it is young enough to enable me to pursue the richness of a life outside the law that I relish having before me.”

In his statement he released today, he thanked the four governors who appointed him to his judicial posts and said that it is “with enormous gratitude for the privilege and opportunity to serve the people of California that I shall conclude my time in public office.”

According to the rules laid out in the California Constitution, GOP Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has until  September 16 to nominate George’s successor as Chief Justice.

— Matthew S. Bajko, July 14, 2010 @ 1:44 pm PST
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