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The Forgotten Years

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose Bird

Posted on | March 16, 2010 | 87 Comments

Perhaps Governor Brown’s most controversial judicial appointment was Rose Bird as the Chief Justice of the California State Supreme Court.

Appointed in February of 1997, Brown stunned the legal community by announcing his nomination of his Secretary of Agriculture and Services Agency – and his former campaign chauffeur – Rose Elizabeth Bird who he had known at U. C. Berkeley to be the first woman Chief Justice passing over every experienced judge in California and many well qualified women.

The controversial appointment was opposed by many including then Bishop Roger Mahony (now a Cardinal in the Los Angeles Archdiocese who based his opposition on his personal working relationship with Rose.

Her controversial service on the California State Supreme Court led to the “Rose Bird Court” becoming the short hand for liberal courts and judges in California.

During her service on the California State Supreme Court, she hewed to a consistently liberal, pro-defendant, and anti-death penalty line.  She voted against imposing the death penalty in all 64 cases before the court.  She further voted to overturn the State’s “use a gun, go to prison” law.

Standing strong for her beliefs, Bird led the liberal court to such a pro-defendant stance that after 10 years as the State’s 25th State Supreme Court Chief Justice, in November of 1986 not only was Rose Bird defeated for re-election, but so too were two of her liberal colleagues.

This defeat clinched her place in history as the only State Supreme Court Justice in the history of the United States to be defeated in a retention election.

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