Updated at 4:07 p.m.
Gov. Jerry Brown has turned to his own staff for his next, and final, California Supreme Court pick, choosing his senior advisor for judicial appointments and legal policy, Joshua “Josh” Groban to be the next associate justice on the high court.
Groban, 45, has served Brown since 2010 when he was chief legal advisor to the would-be governor’s campaign. Since joining the Brown administration Groban has taken a lead role in recruiting and vetting hundreds of trial court and appellate applicants. If confirmed as expected, Groban will join three other Brown appointees—Associate Justices Goodwin Liu, Mariano-Florentino Cuellar and Leondra Kruger—he helped bring to the bench.
“Josh Groban has vast knowledge of the law and sound and practical judgement,” Brown said in a prepared statement. “He’ll be a strong addition to California’s highest court.”
Groban’s selection comes as a surprise. Although his name was frequently mentioned as a possible nomination when Associate Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar announced her pending retirement more than 20 months ago, Brown’s office had been vetting Groban since August for a possible pick to the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles. Whether Groban was ever truly being considered for that court is unclear. Brown was traveling in Butte County Wednesday afternoon and made his announcement through a press release.
“Serving the people of California over the past eight years has been the privilege of a lifetime,” Groban said in a prepared statement. “I am truly humbled by this nomination and, if confirmed, I look forward to working alongside the highest court’s truly exemplary jurists.”
Groban’s nomination now goes before the Commission on Judicial Appointments, comprised of Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Justice Anthony Kline of the First District Court of Appeal. Kline was a senior advisor to Brown during his first stint as governor. No date has been set for the commission hearing.
Like Brown’s most recent three appointments to the Supreme Court, Groban is young and has never served as a judge.
“While this is the governor’s fourth pick without prior judicial experience—which is intriguing and unusual—all of his picks were law clerks to excellent federal judges, and at least one (Cuellar) is married to one (Judge Lucy Koh of the Northern District),” said Ben Feuer, chairman of the California Appellate Law Group.
Before joining Brown’s administration, Groban was a civil litigator at Munger, Tolles & Olson in Los Angeles from 2005 to 2010. Between 1999 and 2005, he was an attorney with Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. He served as a law clerk for Judge William Conner of the U.S. District Court in New York’s Southern District from 1998 to 1999.
Unlike Brown and the three justices he’s appointed since 2011, Groban earned his law degree from Harvard, not Yale. Groban has been a lecturer in appellate law practice at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law since 2015.
California’s Supreme Court has relied on a stream of appellate justices to serve as pro tems on more than 100 cases since Werdegar retired on Aug. 31, 2017.
With Liu, Cuellar and Kruger, Groban will form a Brown-appointed majority that could shape the bench for decades to come. Liu, Cuellar and Kruger do not vote as a bloc, and Groban, a Democrat, has no case law history from which to make predictions.
“The vast majority of the court’s decisions are unanimous, so I don’t know that he’s going to make a big difference in the way cases are decided,” said Horvitz & Levy of counsel David Ettinger. “He might have an influence in deciding which cases the court hears.”
The Commission on Judicial Appointments is scheduled to meet on Nov. 26 to consider five appellate court nominations Brown made earlier this fall. It’s unclear if the state’s Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation will have time to finish vetting Groban—a process already started when his name circulated for the Second District job—before that meeting.
If confirmed, Groban would not face a retention vote until November 2022.
The governor’s announcement is posted in full below: