SACRAMENTO—California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said the state Supreme Court chambers were flooded with calls from “profane and very angry people” after she asked federal officials in March to stop arresting undocumented immigrants in state courthouses.
“And I received a lot of letters that said, ‘This is not your job … You shouldn’t be involved in politics. You’re just a judge who should interpret the law.’” Tani Cantil-Sakauye said Thursday in remarks at the Sacramento Press Club.
The chief justice’s letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and U.S. Homeland Security John Kelly accused federal agents of “stalking undocumented immigrants in our courthouses” and instilling fear in people who are summoned to court. Sessions and Kelly responded with their own letter two weeks later, criticizing Cantil-Sakauye’s use of the word “stalking” and insisting that the courthouse arrests would continue because state leaders had blocked immigration agents’ work in other locations, including prisons and jails.
The chief justice said she expected the criticism but wanted to put courthouses “on par” with schools, churches and other places that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents avoid.
“If I couldn’t speak out as chief justice, I don’t know who could,” she said.
Cantil-Sakauye’s question-and-answer session Thursday was the latest in a series of public appearances she’s made around the state as the governor and legislative leaders consider her branch’s request for more funding. The governor’s latest budget proposal offered little additional funding for the judiciary, even as Cantil-Sakauye and others have pleaded for at least another $159 million to keep up with the courts’ workload.
The chief justice said she has a good relationship with Gov. Jerry Brown, one that results in “robust and raucous” conversations surrounding the courts and the budget.
“He says things to me like, ‘You know, poor people have more influence than you. You don’t have any lobbies really in the Capitol,’” Cantil-Sakauye said.
That frank relationship hasn’t resulted in more money for the courts, she acknowledged.
“But it’s always personable and for that I’m grateful,” Cantil-Sakauye said.
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