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Deukmejian Links Self to Conservative Appointees : High Court Thrust Into Governor Race

Times Staff Writer

Gov. George Deukmejian on Wednesday signaled his intention to make the upcoming Supreme Court confirmation contest a key issue in his reelection campaign, suggesting that if voters want a more conservative court they ought to elect him.

“The significance of it is that the governor will have the responsibility of appointing individuals to all levels of the judiciary,” said Deukmejian, a persistent critic of Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird and most of the other justices up for confirmation. “And I think the public in deciding who they want for governor should have an idea of the type of person that governor is going to appoint.”

Responding to reporters’ questions about the Supreme Court during a tourism promotion at San Francisco’s bustling waterfront, the Republican governor repeated pledges to refrain from raising funds for or being officially connected with any organized group formed to campaign against Bird and other justices. But he said he will continue to speak out about what he perceives to be improper court decisions.

The Supreme Court is dominated by appointees of former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., Deukmejian’s Democratic predecessor. Bird, Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin, all Brown appointees, will face voters in 1986 along with Malcolm Lucas, a Deukmejian appointee and the court’s only conservative.

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Kaus Replacement

Deukmejian has yet to appoint a replacement for Otto Kaus, who has retired. Stanley Mosk, a liberal justice, has said he may retire before the election.

Deukmejian has not indicated whom he will appoint to those posts nor has he decided whether to publicly support the ouster of any justices other than Bird.

The defeat of Bird or any other single liberal justice could tip the balance of the court to the right, if a conservative like Deukmejian is in the position to name the replacement.

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In a published interview earlier this week, Bird accused her critics of trying to impose a right-wing “litmus test” on the high court with a campaign to deny her and other liberal justices new 12-year terms. In part, Bird said her conservative opponents are hoping for a chief justice to reflect their views and a court majority “to be mirror images of themselves.”

Speaking to reporters, Deukmejian said Bird’s remarks were “inappropriate.”

“I would not think it appropriate to describe voters who may be interested in the judicial election as having a particular political philosophy,” the governor said. “Anyone who is appointed as a judge knows they will have to stand for election.”

Deukmejian’s likely opponent in the governor’s race in 1986 is Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, a liberal Democrat.

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