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Supreme Court of California
CA SC seal.png
Seal of the Supreme Court of California
Established 1849
Jurisdiction California California
Location San Francisco, California
Authorized by California Constitution
Decisions are appealed to Supreme Court of the United States
Number of positions 7
Chief Justice
Currently Ronald M. George

The Supreme Court of California is the state supreme court of that jurisdiction. It is headquartered in San Francisco, and regularly holds sessions at its branch offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento. Its decisions are binding on all other California state courts.[1]



The Court's headquarters in San Francisco, which it shares with the Court of Appeal for the First District

Under the original 1849 California Constitution, the Court started with a Chief Justice and two Associate Justices. The court was expanded to five justices in 1862. Under the current 1879 constitution, the Court expanded to six Associate Justices and one Chief Justice, for the current total of seven. The justices are appointed to twelve-year terms by the Governor of California and often appear unopposed on ballots during retention elections.[2]



According to the California Constitution, to be considered for an appointment, a person must be an attorney admitted to practice in California or have served as a judge of a California court for ten years immediately preceding the appointment.

Retention votes

After justices are appointed, they are subject to a retention vote at the next general election, and thereafter at twelve-year intervals.

The electorate has occasionally exercised the power to not retain justices. Chief Justice Rose Bird and Associate Justices Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin were staunchly opposed to capital punishment and were subsequently removed in the 1986 general election. Newly-reelected Governor George Deukmejian was then able to elevate Associate Justice Malcolm M. Lucas to Chief Justice and appoint three new conservative associate justices.

Current membership

The following table lists the current Justices of the Supreme Court of California.

Position Name Born Appt. by Took office Prior positions
Chief Justice Ronald M. George 01940-03-11 March 11, 1940
(age &0000000000000069.00000069)
P. Wilson September 1991 Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of California (1991–1996); California Court of Appeal (1987–1991); Los Angeles County Superior Court (1977–1987); Los Angeles Municipal Court (1972–1977).
Associate Justice Joyce L. Kennard 01941-05-06 May 6, 1941
(age &0000000000000068.00000068)
G. Deukmejian April 1989 California Court of Appeal (1988–1989); Los Angeles County Superior Court (1987–1988); Los Angeles Municipal Court (1986–1987).
Associate Justice Marvin R. Baxter 01940-01-09 January 9, 1940
(age &0000000000000070.00000070)
G. Deukmejian January 1991 California Court of Appeal (1988–1991); Appointments Secretary (1983–1988).
Associate Justice Kathryn Werdegar 01936-04-05 April 5, 1936
(age &0000000000000073.00000073)
P. Wilson May 1994 United States Department of Justice; Director, Criminal Law Division, California Bar Continuting Education; Senior Staff Attorney, Supreme Court of California.
Associate Justice Ming Chin 01942-08-31 August 31, 1942
(age &0000000000000067.00000067)
P. Wilson January 1996 California Court of Appeal (1990–1996); Alameda County Superior Court (1990).
Associate Justice Carlos R. Moreno 01948-11-04 November 4, 1948
(age &0000000000000061.00000061)
G. Davis October 2001 United States District Court for the Central District of California (1998–2001); Los Angeles County Superior Court (1993–1998); Compton Municipal Court (1986–1993).
Associate Justice Carol Corrigan 01948-08-16 August 16, 1948
(age &0000000000000061.00000061)
A. Schwarzenegger December 2005 California Court of Appeal (1994–2006); Alameda County Superior Court (1990–1994).

Six justices were appointed by Republicans (George, Kennard, Baxter, Werdegar, Chin, and Corrigan) and one by a Democrat, Moreno.

There is one Eurasian-American justice (Kennard - Dutch father, Chinese mother), one East Asian-American justice (Chin), one Latino justice (Moreno), and four European-American justices (George, Baxter, Corrigan, and Werdegar). Kennard is the only justice with a visible physical disability; she has an artificial leg.

The justices do not publicly discuss their religious views or affiliations, but most are Christian from Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations.


Between 1879 and 1966, the court was divided into two three-justice panels, Department One and Department Two.[3] The Chief Justice divided cases evenly between the panels and also decided which cases would be heard en banc by the Court sitting as a whole.

After a constitutional amendment in 1966, the Court currently sits as a whole (all seven together) when hearing all appeals. When there is an open seat on the court, or if a justice recused himself or herself on a given case, justices from the California Courts of Appeal are assigned by the Chief Justice to join the court for individual cases, on a rotational basis.



The Court has exclusive and direct appellate jurisdiction in all California state death penalty cases, although it has sponsored a state constitutional amendment to allow it to assign death penalty appeals to the California Courts of Appeal.[4] It has discretionary appellate jurisdiction over all cases reviewed by the Courts of Appeal; the latter were created by a 1904 constitutional amendment to relieve the Supreme Court of most of its workload, so the Court could then focus on dealing with non-frivolous appeals that actually involved important issues of law.[5]


The Court's branch office in Los Angeles, which it shares with the Court of Appeal for the Second District
The Court's branch office in Sacramento, which it shares with the Court of Appeal for the Third District

The Court is open for business year-round (as opposed to the practice of operating only during scheduled "terms" as is customary in some eastern U.S. states). The Court hears oral argument at least one week per month, ten months each year (the exceptions are July and August). Since 1874, it has regularly heard oral argument each year at San Francisco (four months), Los Angeles (four months), and Sacramento (two months).

Throughout the year (including July and August), the Justices have a conference every Wednesday the Court is not hearing oral argument, with the exception of the last week, respectively, of November and December (Thanksgiving and New Year's). New opinions are published online on Monday and Thursday mornings at 10 A.M. Paper copies also become available through the clerk's office at that time.

Ancillary responsibilities

The Supreme Court supervises the lower courts (including the trial-level Superior Courts of California) through the Judicial Council of California, and also supervises California's legal profession through the State Bar of California. All lawyer admissions and disbarments are done through recommendations of the State Bar, which are then routinely ratified by the Supreme Court. California's bar is the largest in the U.S. with 210,000 members, of whom 160,000 are actively practicing.


As the Wall Street Journal explained in 1972:

The state's high court over the past 20 years has won a reputation as perhaps the most innovative of the state judiciaries, setting precedents in areas of criminal justice, civil liberties, racial integration, and consumer protection that heavily influence other states and the federal bench.[6]

Statistical analyses conducted by LexisNexis personnel at the Court's request indicate that the decisions of the Supreme Court of California are by far the most followed of any state supreme court in the United States.[7] Between 1940 and 2005, 1,260 decisions of the Court were expressly followed by out-of-state courts (meaning that those courts expressly found the Court's reasoning persuasive and applied it to the cases before them).

Many important legal concepts have been pioneered or developed by the Court, including strict liability for defective products, negligent infliction of emotional distress, palimony, insurance bad faith, wrongful life, and market-share liability.

The California Supreme Court and all lower California state courts use a different writing style and citation system from the federal courts and many other state courts. California citations have the year between the names of the parties and the reference to the case reporter, as opposed to the national standard (the Bluebook) of putting the year at the end. For example, the famous case Marvin v. Marvin, which established the standard for non-marital partners' ability to sue for their contributions to the partnership, is rendered Marvin v. Marvin (1976) 18 Cal.3d 660 [134 Cal.Rptr. 815, 557 P.2d 106] in California style, while it would be Marvin v. Marvin, 18 Cal. 3d 660, 557 P.2d 106, 134 Cal. Rptr. 815 (1976), in Bluebook style. The California citation style, however, has always been the norm of common law jurisdictions outside the United States, including England, Canada and Australia.

While the U.S. Supreme Court justices indicate the author of an opinion and who has "joined" the opinion at the start of the opinion, California justices always sign a majority opinion at the end, followed by "WE CONCUR," and then the names of the joining justices. California judges are traditionally not supposed to use certain ungrammatical terms in their opinions, which has led to embarrassing fights between judges and the editor of the state's official reporters. California has traditionally avoided the use of certain French and Latin phrases like en banc, certiorari, and mandamus, so California judges and attorneys write "in bank," "review," and "mandate" instead.

Finally, the California Supreme Court has the power to "depublish" opinions by the Courts of Appeal (as opposed to the federal practice of not publishing certain "unpublished" opinions at all in the federal case reporters).[8] This means that even though the opinion has already been published in the official state reporters, it will be binding only upon the parties.[9] Stare decisis does not apply, and any new rules articulated will not be applied in future cases. Similarly, the California Supreme Court has the power to "publish" opinions by the California Courts of Appeal which were initially not published.[8]

Notable past justices

List of Chief Justices

# Name Term
1 Serranus Clinton Hastings (1850-1852)
2 Henry A. Lyons (1852)
3 Hugh C. Murray (1852-1857)
4 David S. Terry (1857-1859)
5 Stephen J. Field (1859-1863)
6 W.W. Cope (1863-1864)
7 Silas W. Sanderson (1864-1866)
8 John Currey (1866-1868)
9 Lorenzo Sawyer (1868-1870)
10 Augustus L. Rhodes (1870-1872)
11 Royal T. Sprague (1872)
12 William T. Wallace (1872-1879)
13 Robert F. Morrison (1879-1887)
14 Niles Searls (1887-1889)
15 William H. Beatty (1889-1914)
16 Matt I. Sullivan (1914-1915)
17 Frank M. Angellotti (1915-1921)
18 Lucien Shaw (1921-1923)
19 Curtis D. Wilbur (1923-1924)
20 Louis W. Myers (1924-1926)
21 William H. Waste (1926-1940)
22 Phil S. Gibson (1940-1964)
23 Roger J. Traynor (1964-1970)
24 Donald R. Wright (1970-1977)
25 Rose Elizabeth Bird (1977-1987)
26 Malcolm M. Lucas (1987-1996)
27 Ronald M. George (1996-present)

See also


  1. ^ Auto Equity Sales, Inc. v. Superior Court, 57 Cal. 2d 450 (1962). In Auto Equity Sales, the Court explained: "Under the doctrine of stare decisis, all tribunals exercising inferior jurisdiction are required to follow decisions of courts exercising superior jurisdiction. Otherwise, the doctrine of stare decisis makes no sense. The decisions of this court are binding upon and must be followed by all the state courts of California. Decisions of every division of the District Courts of Appeal are binding upon all the justice and municipal courts and upon all the superior courts of this state, and this is so whether or not the superior court is acting as a trial or appellate court. Courts exercising inferior jurisdiction must accept the law declared by courts of superior jurisdiction. It is not their function to attempt to overrule decisions of a higher court."
  2. ^ Prop. 8 gay marriage ban goes to Supreme Court Los Angeles Times November 2008 "The court's members serve 12-year terms and appear on the ballot unopposed in retention elections. Opponents could try to unseat them during their retention elections or try to mount a recall."
  3. ^ See People v. Kelly, 40 Cal. 4th 106, 113 (2006), which explains the 1879 constitutional convention's decision to create a seven-justice court with two three-justice departments.
  4. ^
  5. ^ See Snukal v. Flightways Manufacturing, Inc., 23 Cal. 4th 754, 767-768 (2000).
  6. ^ Joann Lublin, "Trailblazing Bench: California High Court Often Points the Way for Judges Elsewhere," Wall Street Journal, 20 July 1972, 1.
  7. ^ Jake Dear and Edward W. Jessen, " Followed Rates" and Leading State Cases, 1940-2005, 41 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 683, 694(2007).
  8. ^ a b Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.1105 (2007)
  9. ^ Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.1115 (2007)

External links

Coordinates: 37°46′50″N 122°25′04″W / 37.780543°N 122.417902°W / 37.780543; -122.417902


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