SACRAMENTO (CN) – In the rotunda of the Capitol building, where she never dared venture as a child, Tani Cantil-Sakauye was sworn in this morning as the 28th chief justice of the California Supreme Court. “Today my heart is full,” she said.
As a child, Canti-Sakauye said her mother would take her and her brothers and sister to the park outside of the Capitol, but she never imagined that she or her family would ever go inside.
“Now, here we are inside, sitting in the front row!” she exclaimed to the crowd, which burst into applause.
Cantil-Sakauye said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s July nomination “changed my life and my family’s life,” and complimented his “international megawatt stature.”
But her speech took a serious tone when she acknowledged “the daunting task” ahead of her three times. “I am fully aware of the monumental challenge ahead of me. I am prepared to happily dedicate myself to this task,” she said.
“The people are most fortunate,” outgoing Chief Justice Ron George said, “and I told her that I expect her to have that position at least as long as I have, which is almost 15 years.”
He pointed to Cantil-Sakauye’s 20 years of experience on the bench as an appellate justice and to her experience as prosecutor and deputy affairs secretary, “which will stand her in great stead for all the challenges she will face,” he said.
Cantil-Sakauye, 50, is the daughter of Filipino farm workers. She is a Sacramento native and earned her B.A. and law degrees from the University of California, Davis.
Before Schwarzenegger introduced California’s first minority chief justice, he jokingly thanked “all the Austrian-looking people” in the crowd of about 400. He also thanked George for his 14 years of service.
“I want to take this opportunity to brag a little about all the great work that Ron George has done,” Schwarzenegger said. “He has done an extraordinary job for the Golden State. For the last 14 years, he has led the largest judicial system in the nation. He is a fierce advocate for the courts, constantly pushing for more money and resources.
“In fact, he came to me so many times that I said, ‘If you come back one more time I’ll make you watch one of my movies, ‘Hercules in New York,’ 14 times, and he said ‘no’ and never came back. So that’s how we do budgets. But what is a loss for California is a gain for his family.”
Schwarzenegger also pointed out that George’s departure “leaves monstrous shoes to be filled.”
Of Cantil-Sakauye, he said, “She’s a living, breathing example of the American dream. She waited on tables to put herself through college and law school. What an inspiring example for young boys and girls.”
He added: “The people of California agree,” referring to the 2-1 margin of voters who confirmed her on Nov. 2.
Cantil-Sakauye took the oath of office at 11:38 a.m. after a brief scramble for a Bible. As she donned her judicial garments, she mumbled about “putting on my robe in front of 400 people.”
After Schwarzenegger administered the oath, she kissed her husband, mother and two daughters.
Cantil-Sakauye will take office on Jan. 3, 2011.