SACRAMENTO (CN) — California needs a strong judiciary now more than ever to safeguard the rule of law against tyranny, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye told the Legislature at her State of the Judiciary address Monday.
“Very often we take the rule of law for granted until it is challenged. And I submit to you today that the rule of law is being challenged,” Cantil-Sakauye told a joint session of the Assembly and Senate. “We live in time civil rights unrest, eroding trust in our public institutions, economic anxiety, and unprecedented polarization.”
She held up her in-laws Dorothy and Jiro, who were in attendance, as examples of what can happen when the rule of law fails. Both were among the 120,000 Japanese-Americans interned by the federal government during World War II. Cantil-Sakauye noted that this was done by executive order.
“They were labeled hucksters and peddlers and they were forced into camps where keys were thrown away for four years. Jiro and his family were sent to Tule Lake, a camp for alleged rebels, where their every movement was watched by military towers and tanks. Dorothy and her family were forced to Amache, Colorado to live in shacks with snow they had never seen before,” Cantil-Sakauye said.
“It was the forces of fear and prejudice that caused the rule of law to fail.”
Cantil-Sakauye’s remarks followed up on a letter she sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on March 16, urging immigration authorities to stop lurking around California courthouses and arresting undocumented immigrants.
Her mention of the letter in Monday’s speech drew resounding applause from the Legislature.
“Each branch of government is coequal and each of us should take care not to act in a way that undermines the trust and public confidence in another branch,” the chief justice said. “When we hear of immigration arrests and the fear of immigration arrests in our state courthouses, I am concerned that kind information trickles down into the community, the schools, the churches, the families, and people will no longer come to court to protect themselves or cooperate or bear witness. I am afraid that will be the end of justice, and communities will be less safe and victimization will continue.”
She said that in response to the recent political climate, the state trial courts have put together an online repository for immigration resources and information.
“Many people were coming into our court and asking about immigration, so for us it is an access to justice issue,” Cantil-Sakauye said.
That effort is being led by Superior Court judges Samuel Feng of San Francisco and Dalila Corral Lyons of Los Angeles, whom Cantil-Sakauye appointed in February to head her newly formed California Immigration Information Resource Workgroup.
While the chief justice usually enumerates the judiciary’s goals and the accomplishments of the previous year in her annual address, it’s also a prime opportunity to plead the case for more money for the courts. Cantil-Sakauye made that plea again this year, saying a strong justice system needs strong financial support.
“We cannot provide the justice that Californians deserve without adequate and stable funding. Inadequate funding and chronic underfunding of the courts is just one way a justice system can become unjust,” she said. “To be sure, a justice system and our checks and balances can fail in the face of fear and prejudice. But they can also fail with lack of funding.”
The American Civil Liberties Union praised Cantil-Sakauye’s tone and message in a statement Monday.
“We commend Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye for calling on California’s three branches of government to deliver on California’s promise of opportunity and fair treatment for all,” said Natasha Minsker with the ACLU’s California Center for Advocacy and Policy.
“California would do well to enact reforms and policies to keep families and communities safe, strong, and whole. In particular, we hope that the Legislature, Governor Brown, and California’s judiciary branch will continue on the path to ensure that all Californians receive equal justice, no matter how much money they make, how they pray, or where they come from.”