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Time for out LGBT justice in CA

by BAR Editorial Board

As California Governor Jerry Brown begins his last year in office, we say it's time for him to name an out LGBT person to a long-vacant seat on the California Supreme Court.

Associate Justice Kathryn Werdegar, a moderate appointed by former Governor Pete Wilson, announced her retirement nearly a year ago and stepped down August 31. And while Brown has continued appointing judges to the state's lower courts, the opening at the Supreme Court has gone unfilled, with a rotating appeals court judge sitting as the seventh justice. That's fine as an interim measure, but we'd argue that Brown should have had someone ready for confirmation last summer.

When it comes to judges, the Golden State is behind the curve. This week, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy (D) nominated Andrew McDonald, currently an associate justice on the Connecticut Supreme Court, to be its next chief justice. McDonald was the first openly gay member of that high court, and if confirmed by the state's General Assembly, would be the first out chief justice in the country. Last year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo named Justice Paul Feinman, a gay man, to a seat on that state's highest court.

California does not have any out LGBT justices on its high court, but there are qualified LGBT jurists who could be elevated. Two out appeals court judges that come to mind are Jim Humes and Therese Stewart. Humes, before being named to the appellate court, served as Brown's longtime top legal aide.

It is true that for his other high court nominees, Brown has gone outside the judicial branch entirely (he has made three during his second stint as governor). Leondra Kruger, his most recent appointee, was a former U.S. Justice Department attorney. Goodwin Liu and Mariano-Florentino Cuellar hail from academia. Like Brown, all three, as has been noted elsewhere, attended Yale Law School.

We've written before encouraging Brown to name out LGBTs to judicial positions, at all levels. A state's judiciary should reflect the people it serves, and California's, like all the other states, needs more diversity.

Brown should act swiftly to fill this vacancy. With his fourth appointment, the majority on the seven-member court likely would tip Democratic for the first time in a generation. Former Republican governors stacked the courts with conservative judges, and Brown's last seven years in office has begun to shift the balance. A state Supreme Court opening is rare, and while we appreciate the governor taking the time to find the right person, we think he should nominate an out LGBT person who can bring their life experience and knowledge of the law to the court.

Steyer digs deep
A couple of months ago, we criticized billionaire San Francisco activist Tom Steyer for his decision to pour $20 million into a national ad campaign urging the impeachment of President Donald Trump. At the time, we thought Steyer was acting in his own self-interest, gathering contact information on the millions of people who signed his petition while at the same time building name recognition for a possible run for public office.

Well, he cleared up the mystery (at least for this year) on Monday when he announced he would not run for senator or governor in California and instead would commit to spending $30 million in this year's midterm elections to help Democrats - and another $20 million to try and impeach Trump. We're not wild about the latter, but his doubling down and willingness to spend millions to help Democratic candidates in several states is a good thing. And Steyer knows, like we said in November, that with Republicans in control of the House and Senate, impeachment was a non-starter. Should Democrats prevail in one or both houses of Congress in November's elections, all bets are off.

So, we'll give credit to Steyer for being realistic, and sticking to what he does best: staying behind the scenes and donating to Democratic candidates.


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