For five minority judges who hold leadership positions in the judiciary, one of the great benefits is being a role model. And one of the worst is ... being a role model.
That was the takeaway from a Golden Gate University law school panel Tuesday featuring California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, San Francisco Chief U.S. District Judge James Ware, and three other state Supreme Court justices from around the country.
For Ware, who became chief judge eight months ago, he's had the opportunity to introduce his law clerks to civil rights hero Melba Patillo Beals, something the Birmingham, Ala.-born judge took deep pride in. "On the other hand," he said, the chief judge role is "quite burdensome." For one thing, "as chief judge, I'm being a little more careful about the decisions I make. In the back of my mind, now I'm Chief Judge James Ware making the decision." Ware joked that with the responsibilities of chief he sleeps like a baby -- "I sleep for an hour and then I wake up and cry."
The first African-American Supreme Court justice in Nevada, Douglas figures he had fewer personal connections in the business community to call on when it came to reelection or asking legislators for more court funding. That hurdle can be overcome, he said, but "it's a road you have to not think about as you go down it." Failing isn't an option, he added, because "if I don't do my job, there may not be another one like me on the court."
Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice Fernande Duffly, who was born in Indonesia, said it's important that there be more than just one woman or minority on a large bench. When first appointed to the Massachusetts Appeal Court she was the only woman there -- she felt more comfortable after a couple more joined her. "Three is an important number," she said, because it feels like there's less risk of backsliding then. "We all need to work toward critical mass."
For her part, Cantil-Sakauye emphasized that the unification of California's trial courts and other branch reforms -- reforms that have come under attack recently -- have indirectly promoted diversity. Creating a statewide framework for solving judicial problems have given people like her a seat at the table, she said. "Without the branch infrastructure as it exists today, as it was created 15 years ago, I would not have had the opportunity to be standing before you," she said.
About 300 people took in Golden Gate's third annual Ronald M. George lecture. Also on the panel was Chief Judge Eric Washington of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Second District Court of Appeal Justice Joan Dempsey Klein of Los Angeles moderated the discussion.