SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – California Supreme Court Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, who has served on the high court’s bench for more than two decades, says she will retire at the end of August.
“It has been a great privilege and honor to serve the people of California as an associate justice of the California Supreme Court for 23 years,” Werdegar said in a statement. “During that time, I have had the privilege of serving with three outstanding chief justices and many wonderful colleagues, and the opportunity to address some of the state’s most challenging issues. But, it is time for someone else to have that privilege and opportunity. I wish my colleagues, the governor, and my successor well.”
Werdegar will be 81 when she steps down, marking the end of a long-running legal career that began with U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division in 1962.
Born in San Francisco in 1936, Werdegar received her bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley. She then graduated at the top of her class from George Washington University Law School.
After her job with the Justice Department, Werdegar returned to California and taught at the University of San Francisco School of Law, where she was also an associate dean.
She also worked as a senior staff attorney at the state’s First Appellate District and was senior staff attorney to California Supreme Court Associate Justice Edward Panelli.
Gov. Pete Wilson nominated Werdegar to replace Panelli in 1994.
In a statement, Wilson said, “I am sure that Justice Werdegar’s colleagues on the high court, past and present, regard her with great affection and great respect as a conscientious and collegial member of the court.”
He added, “She will be missed and remembered by California’s legal community for her lucid and highly articulate opinions.”
While Werdegar has been described as a moderate jurist, her opinions were also known to swing left, particularly on civil rights issues. In 1996, she wrote the majority opinion in Smith v. Fair Employment and Housing Commission, holding that a landlord couldn’t refuse to rent to unmarried couples based on her religious belief that it was sinful to do so.
In 2006, Werdegar wrote the unanimous court’s opinion in Evans v. City of Berkeley, ruling that the city could withhold free marina berths from the Berkley Sea Scouts, a group affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America, because it excluded atheists and gay men from membership.
Werdegar also joined the 4-3 majority that struck down California’s same-sex marriage ban in 2008, although voters annulled the ruling by passing Proposition 8 that same year.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said in a statement Wednesday that Werdegar will be missed.
“Her service to the public has been invaluable. She has written many excellent court opinions under three chief justices, and has contributed to our collegial court ethos,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “We will miss her and wish her well in the next chapter to come.”