Meet the First Asian American Chief Justice to Lead California Supreme Court

Tani Cantil-Sakauye

To call Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye a badass would be an understatement.

Born and raised in a Filipino American household in Sacramento, California, the second woman and first Asian American to lead the State Supreme Court has had a fascinating job history before her phenomenal judicial career.

“I had a blackjack job when I had just completed my first year in law school,” Cantil-Sakauye told KRON4. “Later on, that experience really helped inform me to pick a jury. It helped me question witnesses, it helped me read body language and understand non-verbal behavior.”

Before becoming the 28th chief justice of California, Cantil-Sakauye served in judicial offices on California’s appellate and trial courts.

It was Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who nominated her for California’s highest judicial office on July 22, 2010. California voters decided on November 2, 2010 that she retain her position. She was sworn in on January 3, 2011.

With three years left in her 12-year term, the 60-year-old jurist remains true to her commitment to public service.

She is known to speak out publicly against arrests made by ICE agents at state courthouses.

“To have a federal policy to come into the courts, state courts to arrest people on very often civil immigration warrants is to create terror,” Cantil-Sakauye was quoted as saying.

 

Among the policies she initiated as chief justice includes bail reform, decriminalizing minor traffic offenses, improved funding for courts and the bar, and civil discourse education for students.

In 2012, she initiated what was called “Power of Democracy,” a program that supports civil discourse education for students, emphasizing the importance of jury trials as a matter of civics.

Cantil-Sakauye began her efforts at bail reform as well as the reclassification of minor traffic infractions from criminal to civil in 2016. According to the chief justice, it is a means of promoting fairness of the law.

“People arrested ought to be evaluated not by the size of their wallet or bank accounts but on who they are and background and history and ability to be back in court as directed and also to not re-offend,” Cantil-Sakauye said.

The chief justice, who is married to and shares two daughters with retired Sacramento Police Department Lieutenant Mark Sakauye, believes in justice for all.

“It has to be for everybody,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “The minute it isn’t is the minute it’s not justice.”

Feature Image via Philippine American Bar Association and Sacramento Bee

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