SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The chief justice of the California Supreme Court said Friday she gave up her Republican Party affiliation over concerns about increasing political polarization and incivility in the U.S.
Tani Cantil-Sakauye said in a telephone interview that she switched her voter registration to “no party” preference after the confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Her decision was first reported Thursday by the news site, CALmatters.
Cantil-Sakauye told The Associated Press she had been considering the move for several years and stressed that it was not a rejection of the Republican Party, but of a broader political climate that no longer reflects her open-mindedness and centrism.
“This is the first time I really began to question the label that was otherwise attached to me that didn’t seem to fit me,” she said.
She added, “I have to live in my skin.”
Her switch comes at a time of turmoil for Republicans in California. The party was routed in the 2018 midterms and controls no statewide office. Opposition to President Donald Trump was a factor in the election results. He lost California by over 4 million votes in 2016 and has remained deeply unpopular in most parts of the state.
Cantil-Sakauye said the Trump administration’s rhetoric against immigrants was a factor in her decision, adding that she was the product of “tremendous opportunity and inclusiveness.”
She is the second woman and first Asian American to serve as the state’s chief justice. Her family traces its roots to the Philippines.
She asked Trump administration officials in a letter last year to stop making immigration arrests at California courthouses, saying the practice will affect the public’s confidence in the court system.
Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly responded that state and city policies barring local law enforcement from turning over suspects for deportation compelled federal agents to arrest immigrants at courthouses and other public places.
Cantil-Sakauye — a registered Republican since age 18 — was nominated chief justice in 2010 by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Early in her career, she worked as a deputy legal affairs secretary for Republican Gov. George Deukmejian, who appointed her as a Sacramento municipal court judge.
Another Republican governor, Pete Wilson, elevated her to Sacramento County court before she became an appellate court judge.
Cantil-Sakauye said the Kavanaugh hearings left her “disheartened” and “hollow.” Kavanaugh’s confirmation was delayed and nearly derailed when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford made sexual assault allegations against him. A subsequent hearing in September before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee exposed a sharp partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans considering Kavanaugh’s nomination. Kavanaugh denounced Senate Democrats during his confirmation hearing.
The U.S. Senate voted nearly entirely along party lines confirmed him to the court the following month.
As a mother of two young women, Cantil-Sakauye didn’t understand the process. Why, for example, did Republicans bring in a female prosecutor to question Ford, she asked.
She said she made the decision to shed her party label in consultation with her husband and a few friends and described the process as “humbling, tough, emotional.”
She described herself as conservative on some issues, but open-minded on social justice issues.
On Tuesday, she praised Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s judicial appointments to state courts, saying they reflect the philosophy of California. Asked what that philosophy was, she said it was “people-centric” and “underdog-centric.”
“It is about what are we going to do about homelessness, what are we going to do about climate, what are we going to do about guns,” she said. “And all of that focuses on people.”