Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye receives 2016 Brody Award

At a time when many candidates are running for government by running against it and political parties have devolved into gridlock and divisiveness, it is rare to see a government official fighting for the people instead of political points.
Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye of the California Supreme Court is no stranger to being an anomaly. As the first Asian-Filipina American woman to serve as a state’s Chief Justice and only the second woman to do so in California, the Chief Justice has already broken through many ceilings to assume the role. However, over the course of her tenure, she has lived up to the very best qualities of public service.tani_cantil_sakauye

In recognition of her achievements, numerous members and friends of the College gathered in Ostrove this past Monday to watch Cantil-Sakauye receive the 2016 Morton A. Brody Distinguished Judicial Service Award. The honor has been given biennially since 2001 to “an outstanding United States federal or state judge who embodies the qualities of integrity, compassion, humanity, and judicial craftsmanship;” qualities which underscored Judge Brody’s life.

During the Chief Justice’s introduction, President of the college David A. Greene spoke of Cantil-Sakauye’s extraordinary career, as she worked her way up from a deputy district attorney in Sacramento County to the state’s highest court. Regarded as a “wise and fair jurist,” the Chief was rated “exceptionally qualified” by the California State Bar when she was nominated for her current position by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010. Greene noted that in contrast to the general public’s low-esteem for government, the people’s confidence in the judicial branch remains high thanks to the work of jurists like Brody and Cantil-Sakauye.

In her acceptance speech, the Chief Justice focused on the importance of turning challenges into opportunities. She joked, “I am an unlikely Chief Justice.” Her relationship with the legal system began early on when she “was touched by a deep injustice.” Her family home was seized under eminent domain, causing her family to become scattered.

Cantil-Sakauye spent two years at a community college before attending University of California Davis, where she also received her JD. She paid for her education by working as a waitress and a casino blackjack dealer. From there, she worked her way up to the highest position in the country’s largest state judiciary. However, she humbly noted that her position comes with “no greater vote, just greater responsibilities.”

As Chief of the state’s Judicial Counsel, the Chief Justice has used her status to improve public access to justice, steer California’s judiciary through the Great Recession, and improve the Supreme Court’s efficiency, transparency, and accountability. Cantil-Sakauye’s philosophy revolves around the idea that the judicial system must represent the populace in order for the community to have faith in it. She added, “The Judicial branch is one of the few places most people will end up in their lifetimes,” whether for jury duty, traffic fines, or lawsuits.

With this inclusive outlook, the Chief Justice has instituted a comprehensive language assistance program for non-English speakers, announced that the Supreme Court’s oral arguments will now be webcast live, and has been proactive in adding diverse voices to the 32 judicial advisory committees under the Judicial Counsel. In addition, she has personally started taking “court on the road” and meeting with everyone from elementary school children to college students in order to foster a new generation of civic-minded individuals.

After her speech, Cantil-Sakauye was asked by one student for some advice for aspiring legal professionals. “Get your foot in the door,” she said, before adding, “work hard, and try not to complain.”