Book Review – Constitutional Governance & Judicial Power

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Constitutional Governance and Judicial Power: The History of the California Supreme Court

Edited by Harry N. Scheiber

In this captivating and highly readable new book, UC Berkeley School of Law professor emeritus Harry N. Scheiber and five contributing authors chronicle the evolution of the California Supreme Court, California law, and California history. Constitutional Governance and Judicial Power demonstrates that the state’s highest court is inextricably linked to the political, socioeconomic, and cultural forces of its time.

The court was established by Article VI of California’s Constitution and held its first session on March 4, 1850, in what had been a San Francisco hotel. The first chief justice was Serranus Hastings, a transplant from New York and Iowa, who had formerly served as chief justice of Iowa’s highest court. Gold was discovered on January 24, 1848, and would be a driving factor in the state’s economy, population growth, and the court itself. Of the first 27 justices, 11 came to California for reasons related to mining gold. The ensuing period included the adoption of common law, the reliance on both Spanish and Mexican legal doctrine, and the foundations of water rights and mining law. Hugh C. Murray, who became Chief Justice in 1852, authored two decisions “notorious as much for their bigoted rhetoric as for their holdings.” In the opinion In re Perkins, the court upheld the right of out-of-state slaveholders to recover escaped enslaved persons despite California’s prohibition against slavery. In People v. Hall, the court banned Chinese witnesses from giving evidence against white persons in criminal cases. Hall provided the precedent for the extension of the ban to civil cases.

Other chapters address the court’s response to California’s rising industrialism, the sweeping changes ushered in by the Progressive movement, and the tremendous population and economic growth during the long tenure of Chief Justice Phil Gibson. Scheiber authors the chapter on the Liberal Era which was marked by the LA riots, school busing, gay rights, affirmative action, and more, as well as the appointment of Chief Justice Rose Bird and her eventual removal by California’s voters. Final chapters explore the retrenchment of the Lucas Court and the more centrist jurisprudence and centralization of administration and funding of the state court system under Chief Justice Ronald George.

This comprehensive study of the Court’s 165-year history will appeal to lawyers, legal scholars, and those with an interest in California history. Constitutional Governance and Judicial Power is a new addition to SF Law Library.

California Supreme Court history enthusiasts can find the following additional titles in the law library’s collection:

Chief: The Quest for Justice in California, by Ronald M. George, interviewee

Activism in Pursuit of the Public Interest: The Jurisprudence of Chief Justice Traynor, by Ben Field

In Pursuit of Justice, by Joseph R. Grodin

The law library also has these judicial biographies:

My Own Words, by Ruth Bader Ginsburg

SFLL Book Review: https://sflawlibraryblog.wordpress.com/2018/01/02/january-book-of-the-month-my-own-words-by-ruth-bader-ginsburg/

Judge Thelton Henderson: Breaking New Ground, by Richard B. Kuhns

Adachi Justice










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