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Editorial: Dellums led on progressive ideals

by BAR Editorial Board

Oakland mayor Ron Dellums, center, looks on after officiating a same-sex couple's marriage in Oakland City Hall on June 16, 2008. He was joined by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland, second from right, and then-Oakland City Councilwoman Jean Quan, right. Photo: Lydia Gonzales
Oakland mayor Ron Dellums, center, looks on after officiating a same-sex couple's marriage in Oakland City Hall on June 16, 2008. He was joined by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland, second from right, and then-Oakland City Councilwoman Jean Quan, right. Photo: Lydia Gonzales  

Former Oakland mayor Ron Dellums, who died Monday at age 82 of cancer, leaves an enduring political legacy in the East Bay. Decades before he became mayor, Dellums was a prominent member of Congress, where he opposed the Vietnam War and fought for free speech rights, among many other progressive causes. In his first run for Congress in 1970, he withstood critics like Vice President Spiro Agnew, who branded the then-Berkeley city councilman as "an out and out radical" who needed to be "purged from the body politic." Dellums went on to serve 27 years in Congress, rising to chair the Armed Services Committee, where he led the fight to curtail production of the B-2 bomber. In 1986, he sponsored economic sanctions to protest apartheid in South Africa.

In 2006, nearly a decade after he had retired from Congress, Dellums ran for Oakland mayor and won. And while he only served one term, it coincided with one of the biggest equal rights battles the LGBT community had undertaken: marriage equality.

In 2008, after the state Supreme Court ruled that barring same-sex couples from marriage rights violated the state's constitution, cities around the state began preparing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. On June 16, the day the ruling went into effect, most of the media attention was focused on Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, who were the first same-sex couple to wed in San Francisco at a ceremony in City Hall officiated by then-mayor Gavin Newsom. But across the bay, Oakland was also making history. Dellums presided over the weddings of about a dozen same-sex couples, including this paper's news editor and her wife. It was a magical moment, as same-sex marriage was an unbelievable achievement. Five months later, state voters passed Proposition 8, which immediately ended same-sex nuptials in the Golden State for five years. (The state's high court ruled that weddings performed between June 16 and the November election remained valid.)

Today, same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. But in 2008, when the spotlight was on California, and Prop 8 was slated for the fall ballot, it was inspiring to see Dellums take a principled stand by marrying same-sex couples in City Hall that June night. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), who won Dellums' congressional seat after he had stepped down, served as a witness to those weddings and carries on the late mayor's fight for social justice.

Dellums leaves a record of accomplishment that made the East Bay a better place, by championing the ideals of his constituents.

Go boldly, Gov. Brown, in high court pick
It's been almost a year since California Supreme Court Justice Kathryn Werdegar announced her retirement, leaving one of the state's most important posts unfilled because Governor Jerry Brown has not yet named a replacement. We have editorialized about this critical vacancy twice before and we're not the only ones who have noticed. In February, Los Angeles Times Sacramento bureau chief John Myers wrote a piece noting Brown was asked about the vacancy at the six-month mark. How was the search going, the governor was asked. "It's going very well," Brown said cagily, Myers wrote. "I'm searching my mind very carefully."

Nearly six months later, Brown apparently is still searching - whether it be his mind or something else.

But as the U.S. Supreme Court is about to have a solidly conservative majority for the first time in decades with the likely confirmation of President Donald Trump's nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, it's worth noting that, Brown, who is winding up his fourth term as governor, could enhance his legacy by naming an out LGBT person to the open state Supreme Court seat. Such a move would send a powerful message to the rest of the country at a time when the judiciary faces enormous pressure from conservatives.

This would be Brown's fourth appointment to the state high court. As we wrote earlier, California does not have any out justices on the state Supreme Court, but has qualified LGBT jurists ready to be elevated. The two that come to mind are out appeals court judges Jim Humes and Therese Stewart. Humes, before being named to the appellate court, served as Brown's longtime top legal aide.

A state's judiciary should reflect the people it serves. Brown has named diverse judges to state trial courts - including gays and lesbians in recent months - so we think he is aware of the importance of a bench that mirrors the community it serves.

The state Supreme Court is considered moderate at the moment, and with a fourth pick, Brown could tip the majority on the seven-member bench Democratic for the first time in a generation. Former Republican governors stacked the courts with conservative judges, and to Brown's credit, he has been working to counter that by naming mostly Democratic judges to the lower courts.

We're confident Brown will fill the seat and not leave it vacant for the next governor. So, in that vein, we urge Brown to make a bold move and appoint an out LGBT person to the high court.


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