Rose Bird BACK

Other Major Decisions

Pro   Con

Chief Justice Bird has consistently supported the rights of workers and tenants, voting with a majority of the court's justices to allow public employees the right to strike,1 to extend jobless benefits to workers who are fired for rejecting tasks that they believe might endanger the health of others,2 and to required that landlords prove that they cannot make a profit before they are allowed to demolish their apartment buildings.3 Chief Justice Bird has also ruled in favor of environmental protection, voting once again with a court majority to give the state Air Resources Board the right to set clean air standards without considering the cost to polluters.4


The Bird court's decisions consistently reflect an anti-business bias. At a press conference on February 13, 1985, Governor Deukmejian said, "People in the business community see a long line of cases that have now been coming down in recent years as creating that unfriendly, that negative impact on business in California." The Governor's office issued a list of 31 cases that had a "negative impact upon the private sector's job-producing capabilities.5

AMA Commentary

We have reviewed the 31 cases cited and can find no pattern to support the charges of anti-business bias in the Bird court's decision-making. Three of the 31 cases involved workers' compensation issues, six involved injury/liability issues, five involved taxation issues, one involved contract liability, two involved issues related to business practices, two involved unemployment issues, three involved employer/employee issues, and one involved an environmental issue. In 11 (36%) of the 31 cases the lead opinion was written by a justice who was no longer on the court when the Governor made his statement. The following provides a breakdown of the court's voting record on the 31 cases:

6 (19%) were unanimous votes.
8 (26%) were 6-1 or 5-1 votes.
11 (36%) were 5-2 or 4-2 votes.
6 (19%) were 4-3 votes.
31 (100%)

Chief Justice Bird did not write the lead opinion in any of the six 4-3 decisions. Chief Justice Bird voted with the majority in 28 of the 31 cases and wrote the lead opinion in two of the 28 -- both of which were 6-1 decisions. She did not participate in three of the cases.6

Since 1958, the California Supreme Court has consistently expanded the liability of insurance companies beyond their policy limits, and since 1970 the court has allowed the imposition of punitive damages when it can be proven that an insurance company acted in bad faith in settling claims.7

1 Los Angeles Times, "Public Workers Win Strike Right," by Dan Morain, May 14, 1985, I: p. 1.
2 Los Angeles Times, "Court Backs Worker in Rejecting Perilous Job," by Philip Hager, March 27, 1984, I: p. 3.
3 Los Angeles Times, Key Element in Rent-Control Law Upheld," by Dan Morain, October 26, 1984, I: p. 3.
4 Los Angeles Times, "High Court Upholds Air Board Rights to Make Rules Without Weighing Costs," by Dan Morain and Larry Stammer, December 18, 1984, I: p. 3.
5 Los Angeles Times, "Governor Cites Cases in Assailing State Court," by William Endicott, February 14, 1985, I: p. 3.
6 Ibid., and West's California Reporter.
7 The Sacramento Bee, "Sellers Take Note: Be Fair to Customer," by Claire Cooper, April 6, 1986, special section on "The Bird Court."