Sure there are those ambitious climate goals, the shuttered prisons, the state’s ever-worsening homelessness crisis and the three-year COVID state of emergency. But among the many changes that will define Gov. Gavin Newsom’s legacy as political leader of California, one of the most enduring, if under-appreciated, is his reshaping of the judiciary.
According to new judicial appointment data his press office promoted this week, Newsom has added 288 new members to the state bench. On its face, that number isn’t all that remarkable. Over the course of his two final terms as governor, Jerry Brown appointed 644. Before him, Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed more than 600.
Instead, these are the statistics that Newsom wanted to highlight:
- 146 (51%) of his judges are women;
- At least 169 (59%) are people of color.
As of last year, 40% of sitting judges and justices were women and roughly two-thirds were white.
As my colleague Byrhonda Lyons has written, gender and ethnic diversity on the bench has been a growing emphasis for California governors. Nearly 40% of Brown’s appointees were people of color, compared to just 27% of Schwarzenegger’s.
- Caveat: The overall trend toward a more diverse bench isn’t reflected across the whole state. As the Bay Area Reporter noted, only 17 out of the state’s 58 county trial courts report having any LGBTQ judges. And in 26 counties — including majority non-white Ventura, Yolo and Kings — more than 80% of the trial court judges were white.
Newsom has gone out of his way to make demographic “firsts” with his appointments. On the state Supreme Court, Newsom picked Patricia Guerrero as chief justice, a Latina, and appointed Justice Martin Jenkins, who is openly gay.
Two more firsts: Alex Padilla is the first Latino to serve as a U.S. senator from California and Shirley Weber is the first Black Secretary of State — both Newsom picks before he won reelection in 2022.
State judicial appointments don’t generate the same attention or controversy as they do at the federal level. But if Newsom ever were to run for president — which, he has repeatedly stressed, he has no intention of doing — he might point to statistics like the ones above as more proof that, as he is so fond of saying, California doesn’t just tolerate diversity, we celebrate it.
But he probably won’t be pointing to this statistic: 70% of registered California voters in a new survey said they do not want Newsom to run for president in 2024.
That number, from a Quinnipiac poll conducted in late February, shouldn’t be all that surprising. After all, Newsom isn’t running, most Republicans surveyed are sure not to support a Newsom presidential run and among Democrats, 86% approved of President Biden and are therefore less likely to support replacing him after a single term.
Other polling tidbits:
- 22% of respondents named homelessness as the state’s “most urgent” problem
- More voters than not had no strong feelings about any of the three Democrats running for U.S. Senate — Rep. Adam Schiff (38% said they “haven’t heard enough”), Rep. Katie Porter (59%) and Rep. Barbara Lee (71%)
- Two-thirds said they would oppose allowing incarcerated Californians to vote from prison, a state ballot measure proposed by Assemblymember Isaac Bryan, a Culver City Democrat.
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