HomeBad Ass AsiansBlog: Why Not a Filipino American to the U.S. Supreme Court?

Blog: Why Not a Filipino American to the U.S. Supreme Court?

Tani Cantil-SakauyeBy Ed Diokno

Everybody else has opined on who should be the next U.S. Supreme Court Justice, so I might as well join in.


When Justice Antonin Scalia apparently died in his sleep, it opened up a seat in the highest court in the land and opened up a political beehive during a Presidential election year. Suddenly, we’re not just looking at the next four years, now we’re looking at the the next 10 to 20 years. The Supreme Court will make important decisions that will impact issues that will determine the type of country we want America to be.


RELATED: Asian American potential nominees for the U.S. Supreme Court

Right away, people began speculating who should be nominated. Asian Americans began advocating for an AAPI member in the esteemed court. They feel that a court reflecting the diversity of the country would be apt since the United States is moving towards a minority majority by mid-century.Not widely known outside of California, Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye is the 28th chief justice of the State of California. She was sworn into office on January 3, 2011, and is the first Asian Filipina American and the second woman to serve as the state’s chief justice.

AND – she is one of those rare creatures: a woman and a member of an up-and-coming minority that could play a crucial role in the upcoming November elections AND … she is a Republican. Would the GOP-controlled Senate reject one of their own?


After former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger nominated her as Chief Justice on July 22, 2010, the California State Bar Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission rated her as exceptionally well qualified for the position. At a public hearing on August 25, 2010, she was unanimously confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments, and in a general election on November 2, 2010, an overwhelming majority of voters elected her to that position.Cantil-Sakauye’s Filipina mother was a farmworker, and her Hawaiian-born Filipino/Portuguese father, worked in sugar cane and pineapple plantations before moving to Sacramento.
Cantil-Sakauye has shown herself to be a moderate on several issues. Her court rejected attempts to revive Prop. 8, an anti-gay marriage proposition and she advocates for more access to the courts despite having her budget cut in recent years.According to the court’s bio of Cantil-Sakauye, in addition to her administrative work on the Judicial Council, she has served as president of the Anthony M. Kennedy American Inn of Court, which is dedicated to promoting civility, ethics and professionalism in the law. That background would be a welcome change to the Supreme Court that has been involved in some highly charged decisions and volatile opinions, albeit many written by the late Justice Scalia.

Born in 1959 in Sacramento, Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye attended C. K. McClatchy High School (1977) and Sacramento City College (1978) before receiving her BA from the University of California, Davis, graduating with honors in 1980. After taking a year off to visit the Philippines, the Chief Justice entered the UC Davis, Martin Luther King, Jr., School of Law in 1981. After receiving her JD in 1984, she worked as a deputy district attorney for the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office, where she prosecuted a variety of criminal offenses. From 1988 to 1990, she served on the senior staff of Governor Deukmejian in two capacities: first as deputy legal affairs secretary and later as a deputy legislative secretary.

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye is a former board member of several nonprofit organizations and has been active in numerous professional community organizations, including membership in the California Judges Association, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, and the Sacramento Asian Bar Association, and received the Filipina of the Year Award.


She is currently a member of the Board of Directors for the Conference of Chief Justices, The American Law Institute, the Board of Visitors for UC Davis, an Advisory Board member of the Sacramento Federal Judicial Library and Learning Center Foundation, an honorary member of the Foundation for Democracy and Justice, a private nonprofit organization devoted to civics education, and is actively engaged in a civic learning initiative Your Constitution: The Power of Democracy. 

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye is married to Mark Sakauye, a retired police lieutenant, and they have two daughters. If chosen for the court, she would become the second Sacramentan on that August council, the other being Justice Anthony Kennedy.


After law school, one of the jobs she undertook was as a blackjack dealer in a Reno casino. (It earned more than being a law clerk, she says.) That aptitude – playing the cards that are dealt – would do her well in the U.S. Supreme Court where she could potentially become a crucial swing-vote in issues of a politically partisan nature.


(Ed Diokno writes a blog :Views From The Edge: news and analysis from an Asian American perspective.)

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