SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Ron George announced his retirement Wednesday as chief justice of the California Supreme Court. During his 14 years in the post, he authored the ruling that briefly legalized gay marriage in California.
George announced his decision after indicating for the past two years that he intended to seek another 12-year term this November. George, appointed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson in 1996 after 30 years’ experience in the legal field, said he plans to step down to spend more time with his family and to have time for himself.
“Reflection convinced me now is the right time — while I am at the top of my game — to leave while the proverbial music still plays,” he said.
By announcing his retirement now, George enables Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to appoint his successor, which George intended to do. “I feel a great deal of reassurances in the exemplary level of appointments this governor has made” and in his “commitment to the judicial branch,” George said.
Schwarzenegger issued a statement thanking George for his “tremendous commitment to justice with extraordinary dedication to upholding impartiality under the law.”
The governor has until Sept. 15 to nominate a successor who would face a confirmation hearing before a three-member commission, headed by George, and would then appear on the November ballot for a 12-year term beginning in January 2011.
Justice Carol Corrigan, the third-longest serving justice in state history and an influential figure on jurisprudence in California, could be on the short list for George’s replacement.
In his decision to legalize same-sex marriage, George wrote that “the right of an individual to establish a legally recognized family with the person of one’s choice” was protected by the California constitution. His decision, which overturned a 1977 state law and a 2000 ballot measure, was itself unraveled by the passage of Proposition 8 in November 2008.
George’s court then voted 6-1 to uphold the ban, with George critiquing how easy it is to pass initiatives in California that affect basic civil rights. A federal challenge of Proposition 8 is currently pending in San Francisco Federal Court.
Since taking office, George has written dozens of other major rulings, including overturning a law requiring parental consent for minors’ abortions, requiring private country clubs doing business with the public to admit women, allowing the Boy Scouts to exclude gays and atheists, and declaring the public and news media’s right to attend civil court proceedings.