The Case of Rose Bird: Gender, Politics, and the California Courts
By Kathleen A. Cairns
Reviewed by Richard Schulke, Reference Librarian
The Case of Rose Bird: Gender, Politics, and the California Courts is a timely look at political activism aimed at members of the Judiciary. It recounts the circumstances that led to the removal of Rose Bird as Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court.
This book begins by looking at Rose Bird’s early triumphs during high school and law school, followed by her milestone achievements as the first female law clerk for the Nevada Supreme Court, the first female deputy public defender in Santa Clara County, and the first woman to hold a cabinet position in California.
The book follows Bird’s appointment to the position of Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court in 1977 by a then forty-year-old Governor Jerry Brown—she was both the Court’s first female justice and its first female Chief Justice—and then a series of three attempts to recall her. The attempts ultimately succeeded, and in November of 1986 she was the first Chief Justice of California to be recalled by the voters.
The author examines the then-current politics that made Bird a lightning rod—her liberalism, gender, and the perception that she was soft on crime. The author also takes an in-depth look at Bird’s political opponents and the take-no-prisoner attitude that ultimately resulted in her downfall through political machinations. It is as chilling now as it was then.
The description of Bird’s final years as a broken person battling unsuccessfully against medical issues and early death is a sad ending to her story.
Current events make clear that the issue of “Judicial Politics” is still a hot potato. We recently witnessed both the removal of Judge Aaron Persky following his controversial decision to impose a sentence of only six months for a Stanford student convicted of rape, and the political maneuvering during the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. This fascinating exploration of Rose Bird and the turbulent beginning of judicial politics in California is still just as relevant today.
The Case of Rose Bird was generously donated to the Library by John Kelly.