Commentary: Will Jerry Brown be haunted by Rose Bird?

The ghost of one California chief justice is about to reappear this campaign season as a new chief justice heads to certain confirmation.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger nominated Tani Cantil-Sakauye as chief justice, a step that places the appointment power of governors before voters.

In their money-is-no-object campaign, advisers to Meg Whitman, the Republican running to replace Schwarzenegger, intend to seize the moment and poke Democrat Jerry Brown over how he used his powers to select Rose Elizabeth Bird as chief justice when he was governor the first time.

"It is a good moment to begin that re-examination of that aspect of Jerry Brown's record," Whitman strategist Mike Murphy told me.

Whitman's team believes it plays into their theme that Brown has a history as a "failed" politician. By law, Brown will be on the panel that considers Cantil-Sakauye's confirmation, and she will appear on the ballot along with Brown, Whitman and the other candidates and issues.

"The whole process reminds people that governors make important judicial appointments," Murphy said. "Rose Bird is going to get more famous, and she should."

Cantil-Sakauye (pronounced cahn-TEEL sah-kah-OO-way) would be the second woman to serve as California's chief justice. She couldn't be more different from the first who filled the post.

Cantil-Sakauye, 50, has been a judge for 20 years. She generally sides with law enforcement on criminal justice issues but is a social moderate. Colleagues describe her as open-minded and a consensus builder, not words ever applied to Bird.

She has an only-in-America story. She is married to a Sacramento police lieutenant, whose Japanese American parents were interned during World War II.

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