'Most conservative member' of California Supreme Court to retire, sparking speculation on successor


Justice Marvin Baxter.

Associate Justice Marvin Baxter of the California Supreme Court announced Wednesday that he will retire at the end of the year, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Baxter is considered the “most conservative member” of the court, though not an activist, according to the Times. A 74-year-old native of Fresno County, he was appointed by former Gov. George Deukmejian after a stint on a state appellate court and another as Deukmejian’s appointments secretary, and has served on the court for 24 years. He has been a well-regarded justice, according to the Times, who described him as a “consummate gentleman” and “procedural stickler.” The Fresno Bee has more on Baxter’s career and landmark opinions.

“It just seemed to be the right time to do this,” Baxter said to the San Jose Mercury News about his decision not to run in November for another 12-year term. “It really came down to a very personal decision that I made.”

His retirement, coming on top of the April retirement of Justice Joyce Kennard, opens an opportunity for Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown to create a more liberal high court. The California Supreme Court has had only one Democrat for decades.

“This is a game changer,” Santa Clara University law professor Gerald F. Uelmen told the Times. “I think it is going to have a significant impact.”

These are the second and third seats Brown has had the opportunity to fill. He has already appointed one liberal-leaning justice, Goodwin Liu, to the state supreme court. That nomination came after Liu’s nomination to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals foundered in Congress amid criticism from Republicans.

Speculation in the Times focused on the appointment of a Latino or African-American jurist, both of which the court is currently without. (Liu succeeded a Latino, Justice Carlos Moreno.) Names floated by unnamed judges included Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Stanford law professor Mariano-Florentino Cuellar; state appellate judge Jeffrey W. Johnson; and federal district judges Edward Davila and Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers.

California voters confirm supreme court justices at the next general election. If Brown appoints the successors before Sept. 15, that confirmation would take place in the November election. Brown may have an incentive to rush, because he will be running for reelection in November, although he’s widely expected to win.

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