When Voters Met Rosie

Hereditary, recurring governor Jerry Brown, 85, wants California’s supreme court to remove from the November ballot a measure that would give the people final say on tax hikes. That invites a look at Brown’s past dealings with the state’s high court.

Rose Bird and Gov. Brown

In 1977, Brown’s choice for chief justice was Rose Bird, 40 years old and without judicial experience. In 10 years as California’s chief justice, Bird heard 64 capital cases and never voted to uphold a death sentence. For staunch death-penalty opponents, even those on the court, it defied belief to think that every case was unfounded. Consider, for example, the case of Theodore Frank, convicted of kidnaping, torturing, raping, murdering and mutilating two-year-old Amy Sue Seitz in 1978.

In California, newly appointed justices filling judicial vacancies must stand for retention in the next gubernatorial election. On November 4, 1986, California voters booted Bird by 67 to 33 percent. The people also ousted justices Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin, Brown appointees who sided with Bird on the death-penalty cases.

On September 30, 2018, Gov. Brown Senate Bill 1391, which bars the prosecution of those under 16 as adults, whatever the nature of their crime. “The opposition of crime victims and their families to this bill is intense, and it has weighed on me,” Brown said in his signing message, but the crime victims and their families couldn’t have carried much weight with the governor. Thanks to Jerry Brown, anyone under the age of 16 can murder any number of people, be tried only in juvenile court, and gain release at age 25.

Jerry Brown attended Sacred Heart seminary, UC Berkeley, and earned a law degree from Yale, so reporters regard him as something of a sage. In reality, to borrow a phrase from Ray Bradbury in his afterword to Fahrenheit 451, Jerry Brown never said anything that would make a sub-moron’s mouth twitch, with one possible exception.

The new span of the Bay Bridge, built with Chinese materials and labor, came in ten years late and $5 billion over budget. When informed that the bridge was riddled with corrosion, cracked bolts, and other safety issues, Brown said, “I mean, look, shit happens.” Indeed it does, especially in Jerry’s home town. So as Scott McKenzie said, “If you’re going to San Francisco,” be sure to watch where you step.

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