California Supreme Court chief justice gives insight on state government to students

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California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye spoke to about 600 students on campus Wednesday evening to give insight on her role in state government.

Haas School of Business professor Alan Ross invited Cantil-Sakauye as a guest speaker for his course, Political Science 179, a weekly symposium on local, state and national politics. Ross introduced Cantil-Sakauye — who was also his former UC Davis law school classmate — by sharing how former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger described the chief justice as a “living example of the American dream.”

She was nominated as chief justice in July 2010 by Schwarzenegger and sworn into office in January 2011 — becoming the first Filipina American and second woman to serve as chief justice in the California Supreme Court.

Cantil-Sakauye said before her presentation that she accepted the invitation from Ross to speak at UC Berkeley because she is a “huge fan of civics education.”

“What (civics education) really means is understanding how decisions are made in government, whether it’s local government, state government or national government, so that you can make a difference in your community,” Cantil-Sakauye said.

Cantil-Sakauye then focused on explaining her roles as chief justice in the state Supreme Court and as chair of the Judicial Council of California. She emphasized how she and her colleagues work to ensure that everyone has a fair chance to seek justice.

She brought up one of the programs the Judicial Council created to foster such access, the JusticeCorps, which also involves UC Berkeley students. The Judicial Council created the program to train college students in helping their community members through the legal process.

“We train them, they come and they volunteer in the courts to help people fill out the forms so when they come to court — these folks that may or not be educated — they can have a meaningful day, a real day to fix their problem in front of the judge,” Cantil-Sakauye said. She noted that most of the volunteers in the program are bilingual, a helpful aspect considering that 40 percent of California’s population speaks a second language in addition to English. Twenty-four UC Berkeley students volunteered in the program last year.

After the lecture, UC Berkeley senior Christophe LaBelle said he appreciated her presentation about the basic facts of her position and how the judiciary works in California.

“I was also interested how she talked about the politics of her position but also the challenges of the judiciary (and) what it faces,” LaBelle said.

Ross said he was “thrilled” to give students the opportunity to hear the Chief Justice speak.

“She was everything I could hope for in a speaker — to really captivate the audience the way she did,” Ross said.

Contact Jean Lee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @missjeanlee.