Rose Bird’s ghost will kill CA death penalty

Rose Bird’s ghost will kill CA death penalty

Rose BirdGiven that Gov. Jerry Brown was just elected to an unprecedented fourth term, it’s not surprising an old controversy would come up: the death penalty. As the Los Angeles Times reported, his recent appointments of three liberal justices to the California Supreme Court give “hope” to those on the state’s death row.

Of course, families and friends of the victims the death-row inmates killed may have a different opinion of whether there is “hope” for justice.

But the state has been through this before under Rose Bird, the controversial state Supreme Court chief justice Brown appointed in 1977, and who served until 1987. During her tenure, she voted against the death penalty 64 times in 64 appeals of death sentences. As a result, in 1986, voters refused to confirm her position on the court, as well as two other anti-death penalty justices, Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin.

The three were not, as commonly stated, “recalled” from the court, although justices can be recalled the way Gov. Gray Davis was in 2003. Rather, Bird and the other two justices failed a routine confirmation. As the Secretary of State’s office explains: “Under the California Constitution, justices of the Supreme Court and the courts of appeal are subject to confirmation by the voters. The public votes ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on whether to retain each justice.”

Ballotpedia notes: “Justices of the California Supreme Court and California Courts of Appeal face retention to 12-year terms in the gubernatorial elections, which are held every four years in November.” Moreover, the only non-retention of justices in California history was that in 1986.

Green mile electric chairBrown appointments

Of Brown’s three recent appointments, in Nov. 2014, two were confirmed by voters: Goodwin Lieu (67.1 percent approval) and Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar (67.7 percent). So they next will go before voters, assuming they continue to hold these offices, in 2026.

The third justice, Leondra Kruger, was appointed after the election. So she will face confirmation by voters in 2018.

Brown also can be expected to appoint similar justices over his last four years in office. He has stated he wants to remake the court in an activist mode.

Which means the death penalty is dead in California — even though Brown, sloughing off Rose Bird’s legacy, won office in 2010 by saying he wouldn’t impede the death penalty.

Meanwhile, numerous court challenges have prevented the death penalty from being imposed in California since 2006, leaving 748 convicted murderers on Death Row. And just 13 convicted killers have been executed in the state since 1978.

In 2012, voters barely defeated Proposition 34 by 52 percent to 48 percent, which would have banned the state death penalty. Brown supported it.

Potentially, California could get around federal court limitations on the death penalty by adopting the methods of Texas, where 72 executions have been carried out since 2010. But there’s no way the California Legislature would do that; nor would Gov. Jerry Brown sign any such legislation into law.

What likely will happen is that, once the Brown Justices become a four-member majority on the seven-member court, they will decide a case that finds the death penalty is “cruel and unusual punishment.” They will not be recalled. Nor will their future confirmations be denied.

This also means all the activism of pro-death penalty Californians over the years, believing the state was a democracy that followed the voters, was misguided, if not delusional. On this as on so many other issues, your vote does not count.

In California, the death penalty is dead.


(Note: The above picture is, of course, of the electric chair from the movie “The Green Mile.” In recent years, California used lethal injection. The picture was intended to depict the death penalty in general.)


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  1. Ted
    Ted 22 January, 2015, 16:31

    The midrash offers that “a society that is compassionate when it should be cruel will be cruel when it should be compassionate”…..we need an ultimate punishment with teeth for the ultimate depraved killings….

    Reply this comment
  2. Bill
    Bill 22 January, 2015, 21:14

    The death penalty is barbaric and hypocritical. Killing the perpetrator of any crime does not undo that crime, does not bring ‘closure’, does not constitute justice. Two wrongs don’t make a right. More to the point, the state does not ‘own’ any human’s life and therefore does not have any intrinsic right to terminate said life under any circumstances. For the state to claim such a right merely based on a preponderance of force serves to perpetuate the chain of savagery that began with the crime, and undermines the state’s moral authority.
    The drama of the execution scene is a grisly demeaning public spectacle that fulfills some peoples’ need for revenge fantasy. Families and survivors of depraved criminal acts will tell you there is no relief in execution of perpetrators. Screw the ‘midrash’, unless you want to live in the year 250 BC….

    Reply this comment
    • Rex the Wonder Dog!
      Rex the Wonder Dog! 23 January, 2015, 18:03

      The majority of the public today is against the DP, but not for the reasons you cite, but because of how random and arbitrary it has become in its application due to the view of the locally elected DA; and of course dirty DA’s and cops who hide evidence, which is well documented. You cannot have a system with a DP when you have dirty DA’s and cops. And whom are never held accountable, ever.

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    • eck
      eck 24 January, 2015, 19:35

      You would ( I hope) have a very different view if your loved one were the victim of such a psychopath. How the h… would you have any idea that the aggrieved loved ones feel? You read it in some article? A question to you, is there no crime/action that let’s the perp live (where the victims don’t)? You obviously don’t believe in the right of self defense either – since that doesn’t “constitute justice” or anything but your hated “revenge”.

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      • Ted
        Ted "Patriot" Steele 26 January, 2015, 18:22

        Well said Eck– we need an ultimate punishment—not for the every day murder (imagine that!) — but for the worst….

        Reply this comment
        • Bill
          Bill 27 January, 2015, 07:29

          Yeah, like for psychotic cops who beat disabled people to death, then claim that the victim was resisting because he raised his hands during said beating. A death penalty televised execution would go a long way to deter such savagery. And who knows, there just might be a problem with the dosage or purity of the drugs used to end the killer coop’s life….

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      • Bill
        Bill 27 January, 2015, 07:42

        Not true ecklstein, I totally believe in self defense because 1) I have a high regard for my own life and well-being 2) it prevents said heinous act of savagery from occurring in the first place. These debates always hinge on the extreme example: the super-psycho slasher like in the movies and as seen on TV. We are saturated with these images and scenarios but most of the real life random psychotic killings in this country are perpetrated by cops. Fact. Search YouTube and take a look at some real horror. Yet we celebrate these ‘heroes’ and grant them immunity to keep doing their ‘jobs’….To answer your question, these are the crimes where the perp lives and the victims don’t.

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  3. desmond
    desmond 23 January, 2015, 05:18

    Form the people’s court. Bring back draw and quarter. BS that it wouldn’t t be a deterrent. Do it in front of the other prisoners with TV to other prisons.

    Reply this comment
  4. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 23 January, 2015, 17:58

    Wow, talk about spooky, I brought up Rose Bird just last night, before I saw this Post, and stated again how she went so far off the tracks it was unbelievable. Reynoso and Grodin were not as bad, but they still voted way too many times to over turn DP cases. About 6 months before the election it was running 2-1 to vote Bird out, so Bird was going for sure, the question then became would Reynoso and Grodin survive. Reynoso and Grodin BOTH distanced themselves as far as they could from Bird, but it was too late. The public had developed such an acrimonious view of Bird that she became radioactive toxicity. When the worst of her DP rulings became public everyone turned on her. I voted against all three. The reason Bird was recalled was simple, she put HER personal views ahead of the law. We all hear how judges claim they are going to decide cases according to the “rule of law”, like what Klown John Roberts said in his confirmation hearings, and of course they NEVER do, but NO ONE violated the rule of law more than Rose Bird did, and she did it on the biggest criminal cases the system handles, DP cases. The worst ruling she made on a DP case, to over turn the conviction, was when she claimed “rape was not a violent crime”, wish I could remember the name of that case. As stated, she overturned EVERY single DP case that came before her. Now, to fully understand the astronomical odds of that happening you need to know what the reversal rate is in CA for felony criminal cases when the appeal is brought by the defendant, it is 3.9%. DP cases are reversed far more than the 3.9%, which means the true reversal rate for all criminal cases minus DP cases is more like 2-3%, so for DP cases the reversal rate if you broke them out from other felony cases would probably go up 50%, so the reversal may be 6%-7%, but it is still astronomical at 7%. And Bird overturned 64 of 64 for a 100% reversal rate!!!!! Un friggen believable. The ones who forced her from office were the 58 elected DA’s, their DDA’s and of course the 300K cops in CA. LE hated Rose Bird. And I have never in my lfe seen a justice substitute the rule of law with their own personal view as much as Bird. Not even close. Funny thing today is that most people have seen how the DP is 1) applied so arbitrarily and capriciously that it is fundamnentally unfair because the elected DA makes the call, and some will never bribg a DP case, like Kamala Harris; 2) and how a dirty cop or DA can game the system (Like the Debra Milky case in AZ and the Mike Morton case in Texas); and last, 3) how a poorly skilled Public Defender, or even private defense attorney, can cost an innocent defendant their life or long prison term (Susan Mellen). But these new justices are nothing like Rose Bird, espeically Goodwin Lieu, who should have been confirmed for the 9th Circuit.

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    • eck
      eck 24 January, 2015, 19:38

      Really? “I have never in my lfe seen a justice substitute the rule of law with their own personal view” Look around. It’s happening every day. We idiots have given these un-elected judges unprecedented powers. The system’s “off the rail”.

      Reply this comment
  5. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 24 November, 2015, 07:43

    Yeah and everytime some govenor spares the lives of a bunch of convicted killers the UN bleedinghearts celebrate them in some way Well Phooie on the UN and screw them as well as the bleedingheart politician who spares a person who murders his whole family

    Reply this comment

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death penaltyJerry BrownJohn SeilerRose Bird

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