Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, 28th Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, spoke at the University of La Verne College of Law on Monday night, and told law students that a legal education is a worthy investment. She also discussed the importance of adequately funding courts.
“It is the best investment of three years of your life – or four years of your life – that you will ever make,” Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye, the first Asian-Filipina American and the second woman to serve as Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, said of law school. “You have such potential to do anything, whether it’s in government, politics, business, pro bono, the law. There is nothing to hold you back.”
“There are so many other things you can do to improve peoples’ lives, to be the voice of those who have no voice,” she said.
About 150 people – judges, attorneys, students and others – attended the event, “An Evening with Chief Justice of California,” hosted by Justice Douglas P. Miller. The Chief Justice spent time with La Verne Law students before sitting down for a conversation with Justice Miller.
“It was a joy to speak with the students, who are intuitive and thoughtful and also very up on current events happening in California,” she said.
Sworn into office on January 3, 2011, the Chief Justice was nominated by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. After her nomination, the California State Bar Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission rated her as exceptionally well-qualified for the position. She was unanimously confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments, and in a general election on November 2, 2010, an overwhelming majority of voters elected her to that position.
Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye chairs the Judicial Council of California, the administrative policymaking body of state courts, and the Commission on Judicial Appointments. She talked about the impact of brutal funding cuts to courts.
“We live in a democracy and for our democracy to work the public has to understand the interrelationship of the three branches of government: the legislative, the executive and the judicial branch of government,” she said. “You cannot have a fully functioning democracy that serves and protects the rights of its people if you have a substandard judiciary that has been constantly underfunded for five years.”
The Chief Justice also shared some of the factors that went into her pursuing the law.
As a young girl growing up in Sacramento, she recalled how her family felt when they tried to save their home from eminent domain.
“I remember early on my mother going to court and feeling very badly mistreated,” she said. “I remember thinking how she felt she wasn’t treated with any dignity.”
In community college, Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye joined the speech and debate team and found she excelled at it. That was one of the first times she consciously thought about becoming an attorney, she said.
Audience members were impressed with what they heard.
“I think she’s an astoundingly intelligent woman and I’m proud she’s our chief justice,” said Taylor Turner, a third year La Verne Law student who asked the Chief Justice how the court decides which cases to take.
“I thought it was astounding to be able to listen to her in this close of a forum.”