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Blasting federal action on immigration, California's chief justice warns the rule of law is under threat

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye warned Monday that the rule of law in state is under threat. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye warned Monday that the rule of law in state is under threat. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye did not mention President Trump by name in her annual State of the Judiciary speech Monday, but she blasted federal actions on immigration and warned that the rule of law in the state is under threat.

In addressing the Legislature, she also called on members to end years of underfunding of the state court system.

The chief justice said the rule of law has failed repeatedly in the state, including when her husband’s parents were among 120,000 Japanese Americans put in internment camps during World War II.

“Simply put, the rule of law means that we as a people are governed by laws and rules, not by a monarch,” she said.

People take the rule of law for granted until it is under threat, she added.

“I submit to you today that the rule of law is being challenged,” she said. “We are living in a time of civil rights unrest, eroding trust in our institutions, economic anxiety and unprecedented polarization.”

Cantil-Sakauye cited a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center that California was home to 79 ethnic “hate groups” — more than any other state. 

“Our values and our rules and laws are being called into question, and all three branches of government and the free press are in the crosshairs,” she said.

Without naming Trump, the chief justice criticized recent federal enforcement of immigration laws in which agents have gone into courthouses to take immigrants into custody.

She said it was concern over the rule of law that caused her to write to the U.S. attorney general and the Homeland Security secretary recently, asking them to refrain from conducting immigration raids at or near courthouses.

“When we hear of immigration arrests and the fear of immigration arrests in our state courthouses, I am concerned that that kind of information trickles down into the community, the schools, the churches. The families and people will no longer come to court to protect themselves or cooperate or bear witness,” she said. “I am afraid that will be the end of justice and communities will be less safe and victimization will continue.”

The chief justice also repeated her concerns about the lack of sufficient funding for the judiciary even as legislators are adding laws by the thousands.

“Since 2011 when I became chief justice, 6,408 bills have become law in California, while the judicial branch budget has been shrinking,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “I have said before that we are on the wrong side of justice when it comes to funding our courts.”

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