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Rose Bird
Rose Elizabeth Bird.jpg
25th Chief Justice of California
In office
March 26, 1977 – January 5, 1987
Appointed by Jerry Brown
Preceded by Donald Wright
Succeeded by Malcolm M. Lucas
Personal details
Born (1936-11-02)November 2, 1936
near Tucson, Arizona
Died December 4, 1999(1999-12-04) (aged 63)
Stanford, California

Rose Elizabeth Bird (November 2, 1936 – December 4, 1999) served for 10 years as the 25th Chief Justice of California. She was the first female Justice, and first female Chief Justice, on that court, appointed by then Governor Jerry Brown. In the November 1986 state election she also became the only Chief Justice in California history to be removed from office by the voters.

Early life and experience[edit]

Bird was born near Tucson, Arizona. Her father, after having deserted the family, died when she was five, so her mother Anne moved with Rose and her two older brothers to New York City, where Bird and her brothers grew up in poverty. Bird earned her bachelor's degree magna cum laude from Long Island University and went on to graduate from the UC Berkeley School of Law (also known as Boalt Hall) in 1965.

Her career was marked by several firsts: she was the first female law clerk in the Supreme Court of Nevada, the first female deputy public defender in Santa Clara County, the first woman to hold a cabinet-level job in California (as Secretary of Agriculture), the first female Chief Justice of California, and the first Chief Justice to be removed from the Supreme Court of California.

In 1966, Bird joined the Santa Clara County Public Defender's Office where, between 1966 and 1974, she held the positions of deputy public defender, senior trial deputy, and chief of the appellate division. In addition to arguing cases before the state's highest court, the Courts of Appeal, and in federal court, Bird also taught at Stanford Law School from 1972 through 1974.

Her tenure on the Supreme Court was controversial. She was vigorously publicly attacked by her critics as an ideologue who substituted her personal views over the law and the state constitution. Her widely perceived personal opposition to the death penalty was a particular sore point for her critics. She was first up for an retention election in 1978. There was a campaign waged against her, which she did not respond to. However, on election day, it was charged that the court decided to withhold the publication of a controversial ruling until after the 1978 vote.[1] The ensuing controversy generated considerable press coverage but, by then, Bird had been retained by a 52% to 48% margin.

Bird was also controversial among the Associate Justices on her own court. In a 1998 oral history interview, Stanley Mosk explained that Bird was a bright and intelligent judge but a terrible administrator (one of the Chief Justice's major responsibilities); she did bizarre things like forcing all the Associate Justices to make appointments just to talk to her for any reason.[2]

Reconfirmation loss[edit]

Bird was the first and remains the only Chief Justice to be removed from that office by a majority of the state's voters. California justices are selected by the Governor but must be regularly reconfirmed by the electorate; prior to Bird, no California appellate judge had ever failed such a vote.[3]

She was removed in the November 4, 1986 election by a margin of 67 to 33 percent after a high-profile campaign that cited her categorical opposition to the death penalty.[4] She reviewed a total of 64 capital cases appealed to the court. In each instance she issued a decision overturning the death penalty that had been imposed at trial. She was joined in her decision to overturn by at least three other members of the court in 61 of those cases.[5] This led Bird's critics to claim that she was substituting her own opinions and ideas for the laws and precedents upon which judicial decisions are supposed to be made. In addition, the Bird court struck down California's "use a gun, go to jail" law that made a prison term mandatory for any crime in which the use of a gun was involved. The anti-Bird campaign ran television commercials featuring the relatives of the victims of the murderers whose sentences Bird and her fellow justices Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin had voted to reverse.[6] In addition to Bird, Reynoso and Grodin were also voted off the seven-justice California state supreme court bench. Justice Stanley Mosk, who often joined Bird, Reynoso, and Grodin, was not challenged nor were the other three justices.

Twelve years later, Mosk explained why he was able to stay and Bird was not:

Rose Bird was pilloried because she generally voted to find some defect in death penalty convictions and to reverse them. I probably don't like the death penalty any more than she does. As a matter of fact, I think the death penalty is wrong, that a person has no right to kill, and the state has no right to kill. But the difference is that I took an oath to support the law as it is and not as I might prefer it to be, and therefore, I've written my share of opinions upholding capital judgments.[7]

As a result of the 1986 election, newly reelected Governor George Deukmejian was able to elevate Justice Malcolm Lucas to Chief Justice and appoint three new associate justices that more closely matched his generally conservative political convictions, and in turn, the Lucas court moved toward a more business-friendly and pro-law enforcement judicial philosophy.[8]

Career after the Supreme Court[edit]

Bird appeared as a family court judge in an episode of the 1984–85 TV series Pryor's Place starring Richard Pryor. In 1987, Bird appeared as a judge on a television program called Superior Court (a show somewhat similar to The People's Court, though with scripted trials usually focusing on topical issues).

Death and tributes[edit]

Bird died on December 4, 1999, at Stanford University Medical Center from complications of breast cancer (which she had fought on and off since 1976) at the age of 63.[5] The California Public Defender's Association established an award in her honor, as did the California Women Lawyers. New York Law School annually awards one graduating student the Chief Justice Rose E. Bird Award for Motivation in Pursuing Public Interest Law.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Brown, Patrick. "The Rise and Fall of Rose Bird, A Career Killed by the Death Penalty" (pdf). California Supreme Court Historical Society. 
  2. ^ Hon. Stanley Mosk, Oral History Interview (Berkeley: California State Archives Regional Oral History Office, 1998), 54–55.
  3. ^ Chen, Edwin. "California court fight; Bird runs for her life." The Nation, 18 Jan 1986, p. 43-46.
  4. ^ Lindsey, Robert. "Deukmejian and Cranston Win As 3 Judges Are Ousted." New York Times, 6 November 1986, sec. A, p. 30.
  5. ^ a b Purdum, Todd S. (December 6, 1999). "Rose Bird, Once California's Chief Justice, Is Dead at 63". The New York Times. sec. B, p. 18. Retrieved July 18, 2010. 
  6. ^ Joseph R. Grodin, In Pursuit of Justice: Reflections of a State Supreme Court Justice (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 178–179.
  7. ^ Mosk Oral History Interview, 57.
  8. ^ Culver, John H. "The transformation of the California Supreme Court: 1977-1997." Albany Law Review 61, no. 5 (Mid-Summer 1998): 1461-1490.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Donald R. Wright
Chief Justice of California
March 26, 1977 – January 5, 1987
Succeeded by
Malcolm M. Lucas

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rose_Bird — Please support Wikipedia.
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7 news items

 
City Journal
Fri, 18 Apr 2014 12:30:00 -0700

Chief Justice Rose Bird, along with Associate Justices Joseph Grodin and Cruz Reynoso, were ultimately removed by California voters in 1986 for ignoring the law, especially the death penalty. Brown's successors, Republicans George Deukmejian and Pete ...
 
Yakima Herald-Republic
Tue, 15 Apr 2014 02:00:00 -0700

Patty was preceded in death by her father, Rodney Bird Sr., brother, Leroy Devereaux, and grandmother, Rose Bird. Service will be held Saturday, April 19, 2014 at 10:00 am at the All Tribes Christian Life Center, Wapato, Washington. Share 0. Tweet 0.

Prince Albert Daily Herald

Prince Albert Daily Herald
Wed, 16 Apr 2014 21:39:24 -0700

Besides welcoming remarks from aboriginal student advisor Shelly Belhumeur, the ceremony also included an opening prayer from Elder Rose Bird, closing remarks and a prayer by Elder Stewart Amyotte and an honour song by singer/drummer Trevor ...
 
Tahoe Daily Tribune
Wed, 09 Apr 2014 19:37:11 -0700

After a series of (Rose Bird) California Supreme Court cases in the 1970s that made bars potentially liable for serving drinks to someone who drove away and injured or killed someone, the Legislature in 1978 changed the law back to what it had been.

Driffield Today

Driffield Today
Tue, 08 Apr 2014 06:41:15 -0700

At this special Easter event there will be fun for all the family with an Easter egg hunt and face painting, plus on Friday (18th April) there will be demonstrations and handling from Park Rose Bird of Prey Centre between 2.30pm-4.30pm. Christine Evans ...

Herts and Essex Observer

Herts and Essex Observer
Mon, 31 Mar 2014 05:00:00 -0700

Cup winners at the show were – Rose Bird Memorial Cup for best amaryllis, Spring Challenge Bowl for most points in the open section and Les Rogers Memorial Salver for best in show, an azalea exhibit: Bryan Brace; Parish Cup for most points in the ...
 
Forbes
Fri, 28 Mar 2014 09:33:37 -0700

In a scathing concurrence and dissent, Chief Justice Rose Bird rebuked the Court for endorsing an “unprecedented application of eminent domain law without even pausing to consider the ultimate consequences of their expansive decision…this court should ...
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