Praising the California Supreme Court's "tradition of environmental excellence," the directors of a 25,000-member conservation group Wednesday endorsed the reelection of four jurists, including Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird, who have been targeted for defeat by opponents.
The California League of Conservation Voters also released a laudatory report on the court's environmental rulings that it hopes to circulate to up to 1 million voters who take a strong interest in environmental affairs.
The endorsement, the result of a nearly unanimous decision by the league's 32 directors, marks the first time in the group's 14-year history that it has taken a position on a judicial race.
It also puts the league in the uncomfortable position of being a special-interest group decrying the intrusion of special-interest groups in the theoretically nonpartisan judicial election.
The league's executive director, Lucy Blake, said the group felt compelled to enter the bitter court reelection furor in an effort to "broaden the debate" from the current emphasis on crime to the entire range of issues addressed by the court in its rulings.
'Wrong ... to Sit It Out'
"We felt it was wrong to completely sit it out and not play any role," she said. "If we'd had our first preference, we wouldn't be involved in a judicial race at all."
In a Los Angeles press conference, Blake took pains to avoid linking the conservation group's campaign specifically to Bird, who has come under more severe attack than the three associate justices up for reelection in November--Joseph R. Grodin, Stanley Mosk and Cruz Reynoso.
"We're not campaigning on her behalf," she said. "We're campaigning on behalf of the entire court. That does include Rose Bird."
The league report applauds the cooperative efforts of both conservative and liberal justices to protect the environment during the last 15 years. Specifically, it noted that the court has consistently upheld the rights of conservationists to invoke growth limits by using voter initiatives, has enforced the use of environmental impact reports for developments and has approved the regulation of toxin- and pollution-causing industries.
"In case after case, the California court has stood up against special-interest pressures and has upheld our right to environmental protection," the report said.
Change of Stance Feared
Blake said the league fears that the court's protective nature will be upset if the justices are defeated.
"George Deukmejian will be given an opportunity to pack the court with his appointees, appointees who may well share his opposition to regulation and tough, well-funded environmental protection programs," she said.
Under questioning, Blake acknowledged that Deukmejian's two previous appointees, Malcolm M. Lucas and Edward A. Panelli, have proven to be sympathetic to conservationists.
All but two or three of the league's directors approved the endorsement when polled by mail on a wide range of state and local candidates and issues, Blake said.