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In California and across the country, people will be keeping a close watch on the outcome of the upcoming November 4, 1986 judicial confirmation election. At stake is not only the composition of California's Supreme Court, whose decisions have had and will continue to have a great effect on the day-to-day lives of the state's residents, but also the nature of judicial accountability to the public and judicial independence.
While Chief Justice Bird's supporters and opponents favor the confirmation election process, they disagree about what constitutes the proper grounds for the removal of Supreme Court justices from the bench. Although there is substantial agreement on both sides that all judges should be removed if they are incompetent or corrupt, Chief Justice Bird's supporters fear that the election has become a referendum on the popularity of the court's decisions, something that the drafters of the state Constitution did not intend, while Chief Justice Bird's opponents point out that nothing in the state Constitution prohibits voters from making their decisions based on any criteria they choose.
The pivotal and most emotional issue in the campaign is the California Supreme Court's record on the death penalty, and particularly the voting record of Chief Justice Bird. Opponents of the Chief Justice feel that she is biased and has gone out of her way to find reasons to reverse capital punishment cases, at times using the most tenuous technicalities of the law to do so. Supporters of the Chief Justice feel that she has scrupulously applied the law, even in the face of extreme public pressure to affirm death penalty cases, and her decisions are in step with the laws of California, and the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court and a majority of other courts across the country.
Other elements of the court's decision-making have tended to be obscured by the battle over the death penalty, but deserve just as much consideration in any effort to adequately and comprehensively evaluate the Bird court's record.
Above all, the best way to determine whether an individual justice should stay or go is through informed dialogue and debate. The Association of Media Accuracy hopes that this document will stimulate a productive and informative approach to California's November 4, 1986 judicial confirmation election.