News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by A Martínez
Airs Weekdays 2 to 3 pm

Can you name one member of the California Supreme Court? Here's a snap civics lesson

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye
California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye
Paul Sakuma/AP

Listen to story

Download this story 5MB

Today, the California high court is reviewing a challenge to Prop. 66. That's the measure voters approved in November that speeds up the death penalty appeal process. Opponents say the measure is unconstitutional. Supports say the people have spoken.

It will be weeks or months before the Court rules. But who are these people making this, and other big decisions?

We tend to know a lot more about the US Supreme Court than we do about our state's high court, even though it's more likely to make decisions that directly effect our lives.

Here's a quick California Supreme Court FAQ, courtesy of Adam Winkler, UCLA Law:

How many judges sit on the Court, how are they appointed, and how long do they serve?

There are seven judges on the Court, currently four women and three men. They're appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Chief Justice of California, the Attorney General of California, and a senior presiding justice of the California Courts of Appeal.  Unlike the US Supreme Court, California justices serve 12-year terms, and continue in office with the approval of voters in what's called a "retention" election.


Where does the Court hold its hearings, and do they have a annual term like the US high court?

The Court meets in San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles. Unlike their US counterpart, they don't have a term, but operate year-round.

What's the political or ideological make-up of the Court?

There are four Republican appointees, and three selected by Democrat Jerry Brown.

How important is the state's Supreme Court, not just in California, but in influencing legal thinking nationwide?

UCLA's Adam Winkler says it's the most influential state supreme court in the country. "Its opinions are cited more often than any other court," he says.

What are some landmark legal decisions that came out of the California Supreme Court?

Winkler says the Court has a history of innovative rulings in areas such as criminal justice and civil liberties. He notes the Court struck down a ban on interracial marriage in 1948, well before the US Supreme Court ruled on the issue. They were ahead of the Federal courts on same-sex marriage.  The Court has also issued important rulings regarding the rights of consumers, and, in a famous "palimony" case it ruled concepts like community property could be applied to unmarried partners.

So, bottom line. Why should I care about the California Supreme Court?

In a time, says Winker, when the Federal government tends to be partisan and often unable to accomplish much of anything, there's still a lot of lawmaking going on in our state institutions, and the high court is an important part of that process.


Click on the blue bar above to listen to the full interview with UCLA Law Prof. Adam Winkler.