Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye of California discusses threats to judicial independence during a panel titled “Undermining the Courts and the Media: The Consequences for American Democracy,” organized by The National Judicial College, at the Press Club building in Washington, D.C., Thursday, Dec. 13. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye dropped her longtime Republican party affiliation this fall, choosing to re-register as a no-party-preference voter in the wake of the controversial confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Cantil-Sakauye told California news outlet CALmatters, which first reported her affiliation switch Thursday, that she had become increasingly uncomfortable with the Republican Party’s direction in the state and at the national level.

The chief justice said she had been considering the move “for some time” and made the decision after friends assured her that “you didn’t leave the party. The party left you.”

The revelation follows Cantil-Sakauye’s confirmation to The Recorder this week that she was approached about running for governor this year. She did not name her recruiters, although as an alumni of the Gov. George Deukmejian administration—she was deputy legislative secretary—she retains ties to political advocates around the state.

Cantil-Sakauye said she would have had to leave the high court within a month to run for governor. Citing the time crunch, her work on the court and her two college-aged daughters, she declined. Asked if she might run for a political office in the future, Cantil-Sakauye said she’s focused on completing the four years left in her term as chief justice.

Before she switched her party registration, Cantil-Sakauye was one of the last Republicans holding a statewide, albeit nonpartisan, office in politically blue California. Her views, however, have at times put her at odds with the increasingly conservative GOP.

She assailed the Trump administration last year for sending federal agents into state courthouses to detain undocumented immigrants. She joined state Democrats to champion a no-cash-bail system. And in her annual speech to the Legislature earlier this year, she decried the “unprecedented disruption, attacks on the free press, threats to the rule of civility and the rule of law and judicial independence” happening “on the national front.”


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