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The California Supreme Court, absent one justice for more than half a year, is whole once again. At exactly 3:30 Wednesday afternoon, Chief Justice Ronald George administered the oath of office to Carol Corrigan, making the longtime 1st District Court of Appeal justice the 112th person — and only the fifth woman — to grace the high court bench. The 57-year-old Corrigan, who described herself as a centrist and “a heck of a gal” during a post-hearing news conference, replaces the more conservative Janice Rogers Brown, who left June 30 to join the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. George and the two other members of the Commission on Judicial Appointments — Attorney General Bill Lockyer and 2nd District Court of Appeal Justice Joan Dempsey Klein — confirmed Corrigan unanimously. Lockyer and Klein are Democrats, while George is a Republican. Corrigan, a former Democrat, said she converted to the Republican Party about 10 years ago because its views more accurately reflected her own. During Wednesday’s 80-minute hearing in the state Supreme Court courtroom in San Francisco, Corrigan restated her philosophy that the law is a reflection of the people. “Judges do not own the law,” she said. “We are not a superlegislature or an oligarchy.” She went on to say that judges have “a sacredly secular obligation” to nurture and guide the law, but “not to impose our privately held views.” Corrigan, a devout Catholic who lives in Oakland, was born in Stockton in 1948 to a librarian mother and a journalist father. Arthur and Genevieve Corrigan didn’t attend Wednesday’s hearing, but the new state Supreme Court justice said both would be “tremendously proud and completely amazed.” “They were never able to pursue their formal education beyond high school,” Corrigan said, “yet as a librarian and a newspaperman, they were voracious readers, engaged in the wonder of learning every moment of their lives. And they imbued in me the joy of that adventure.” Corrigan got her degree from Hastings College of the Law in 1975 and worked as a prosecutor in Alameda County until being appointed by then-Gov. George Deukmejian to the county’s municipal court in 1987. Then-Gov. Pete Wilson elevated her to the superior court in 1991 and then to the 1st District in 1994. On Wednesday, as the entire state Supreme Court, a host of appellate justices and court officials watched, Corrigan was lauded by Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Lois Haight, San Francisco-based U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins and state Supreme Court Justice Ming Chin. Haight, a friend of 30 years, praised Corrigan’s work on the bench and her years of teaching the law to judges and lawyers off the bench. She said Corrigan loves the law and asks tough questions during oral arguments because “she wants to get it right.” “She will be your friend and at the same time challenge you,” Haight said. “In the end, she will bring out the best in you.” Jenkins used an ironic phrase when he said that Corrigan doesn’t believe judges should be “philosopher kings.” Corrigan’s predecessor, Brown, had used that phrase in a 1997 dissent criticizing her fellow justices. Both Jenkins and Chin noted Corrigan’s devotion to Oakland’s Holy Names College and the Saint Vincent’s Day Home, a program for underprivileged children. Corrigan is president of the day home’s board of directors. Chin also had some fun with Corrigan, noting that she has followed him through the Alameda County DA’s office, onto the Alameda bench and the 1st District, and now onto the state Supreme Court. “Justice Corrigan has been following me around for years,” he said. “But, as usual, Carol has to do things just a little bigger and better. And, to tell the truth, Carol, I’m getting just a little tired of it.” Everyone laughed. There was one critic in the crowd, though. David McMahon, a consulting civil engineer from Albany, accused Corrigan of violating his free-speech and petition rights by ruling against him in an appellate case. McMahon had sued the Albany Unified School District after officials had him arrested for dumping garbage on a table during a meeting at which he was complaining about students trashing his yard. McMahon said Wednesday that Corrigan had “fascistic tendencies” and told her that the first thing she should do on the state Supreme Court is to reverse her written ruling in his case. Afterward, members of the press tried unsuccessfully to get Corrigan to express an opinion on some hot-button issues, such as gay marriage. Corrigan also said that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who nominated her to the Supreme Court on Dec. 9, had not asked her anything “that looked like a litmus test of any kind” on touchy topics when interviewing her. Corrigan’s first oral arguments on California’s Supreme Court come up Tuesday when the court will take on issues involving alleged discrimination against gays and atheists by Berkeley’s Sea Scouts and a case involving nonprofit agencies’ rights to practice law.

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