Scott Shafer, Marie, Lagos discussed on Political Breakdown


Welcome back to political breakdown I'm Scott Shafer here with Marie's a Lagos and I guess this week is the former Chief Justice of California Ronald George Chief welcome thanks for coming happy to be here well chief we do want to talk about your early career all that in your childhood but I want to begin with something that's that is happening in the world the courts today the increasing politicization of the courts and it's not new it didn't begin with Donald Trump although he in some ways xcelerated at and I'm just wondering you know what what impact do you think that has on the judiciary and the rule of law I would like to think that it wouldn't have a direct impact upon judges in deciding cases but perhaps most importantly it does impact I believe the public's perception of the role of the courts and that's so critical in these current times even more so I think because of the fact that people are not as well aware of civic rights and responsibilities as they perhaps used to be when it was taught regularly in the schools undermines faith in in the judiciary I think it does and I think it would be very harmful if people viewed the decisions of courts is just one more political act in the equation of conflict among the judicial and executive and legislative branches but we know obviously that that judges don't do their job in a vacuum I mean you all are aware of the political implications of things that are happening the cultural sort of norms of a society at one time we hear a lot you know people saying it's about balls and strikes and we're just empires but I just wonder how you sort of think about those considerations and and how much you know if you're looking at a at a loss there could be other implications beyond and then we'll get into some of your other your case is later but like I don't is not something that you've struggled with over your time well I did have to you know remind myself in my first few months as a trial judge they went on the bench from the attorney general's office the of course I was no longer a prosecutor and I couldn't of course ignore my own personal experience but I had to put it aside to the extent possible I had to keep confessions out evidence that was illegally obtained or else I would not have been doing my job and my judgment would have been subject to reversal by an appellate court so you have to make a definite effort I think to put aside those things even though we're all of course the product of our background and our upbringing let's talk about that yeah let's talk about that a you were the sun you are the son of two immigrants your dad was from France your mom was from Hungary did they meet in Europe how did they meet yes they met in Europe my father actually left France in his twenties to get a job with the international import export firm in Mexico as sort of seeking his fortune in the New World so to speak and on one of his trips home to visit his parents he had heard these wonderful things about southern California and he took what was then a three day train trip from Mexico City up to Los Angeles fell in love with that saw the opportunities and settle there and brought my mother back there so they had to Matt they had met previous okay in Europe you are grew up I think in Beverly hills if you have bio is correct I'm sure it is what was that light can mean and for them as well coming from Europe has immigrants in being in Beverly hills I mean did you go to school with kids whose parents were movie stars yes there was some of that and I guess I almost reacted to bet against that and also well you know there was a certain not to generalize too much but there was a certain level of ostentation title meant there yeah and I think that the this school experience in Switzerland helped the level the playing field in terms of my perceptions of my experience and in fact inclined me toward a career in the foreign service and was that something that was something that you thought you were going to or is that something your parents were hopeful for well they had raised the possibility and I was quite receptive to it and it was interesting because my parents the first year that they brought us there said well how much instruction will there be in the French language a because it was an English speaking and French speaking division it's all about an hour an hour and a half every day my father says well that's not adequate and after a lot of discussions insisted that we be and rolled my sister and I in the French speaking division and we did not speak a word of French even though our parents often spoke French around the household specially when they didn't want us to know going on so consequently I have as an eighth graders subjects such as science and math and German which I also didn't speak talk to me in French in the Swiss were tough I got a failing grade every week but after you know several weeks I had a rather Menteri knowledge of French you must I'm assuming you're only failing grades well that year they were very kind and the end and the great thing so I came out of a gentleman something like this so you fast forwarding a little bit you went to Princeton for undergrad and then you end up shifting toward the light went to Stanford Law School what was it the shifted you away from the sort of an interest in foreign affairs drug law well my interest in foreign affairs cause me to apply to Princeton where they have this Woodrow Wilson school of public and international affairs and I studied French and German and Russian as well and then what was literally a sophomoric adventure a friend of mine whose father was consul general in legos Nigeria than a British colony said he was going to go back for the summer to visit his parents in sort of a **** around if you could call it that would I like to hitchhike around with him for the first half of the summer is allowed to do that as the son of the consul general a yes it was not literally comes out to his shaking but we find out that someone whether it was a British colonial officer an American diplomat an African or a missionary was going from point X. to Y. and we would get a ride so we did that around the various regions of Nigeria from the north which borders on the Serra to the south the equatorial Ghana and also what was then the British and French Cameroons MS of open your eyes to face it certainly did and conditions were you know in some places quite primitive for they have not seen the likes of us and it was an eye opening experience one aspect of it was though that in this was before the Peace Corps and all of that I was not favorably impressed with my experiences with foreign service officers them and I thought they really weren't having any contact with the local populace and for whatever reasons I became disillusioned with the whole prospect and then went back to college and applied probably not out of the noblest of motives to lost his phone the decision and leave the options open so going in you didn't know at during the course of law school did you see yourself you know going into public service versus private practice like what was there a moment on that well very much so worrisome because I was not drawn to the private practice of the standard type and the area I loved was constitutional law and that sort of combine my interest in public policy with the legal training that I was obtaining and explored various options and the one that appealed to me most was the California attorney general's office especially if one join the criminal division you could expect to be an appellate courts constantly if you were lucky maybe even get a case that would take you to the California Supreme Court and so much of it was constitutional law and public policy how old were you when you first argued a case before the Supreme Court I was twenty eight and it was fortunate I had to fight to keep that case because normally had five years as the bar to him be admitted to the bar the US Supreme Court but they let me do it and here I have to be a little bit immodest what happened is they like when I did enough that they gave me five other arguments that were not my cases originally so it was a rather fascinating experience and a couple of those cases involve very basic things like the constitutionality of the death penalty one of the cases you argued it was the conviction you defended the conviction of Sirhan Sirhan who had killed Robert Kennedy four years earlier what was that like yes that was in the California Supreme Court and was quite an interesting case and the in the course of visiting death row in San Quentin because I wanted to be prepared to argue any questions that were raised about the conditions on death row I was shown around by the warden and inevitably I guess we got to Sir hands cell and the ward said I've really Feelin need here to introduce the two of you because I don't want it later said that I surreptitiously brought the prosecutor they're so we had a very abbreviated conversation what was your price range yeah well the the word you said surround this is Mister George from the attorney general's office and Sir Hans reply was yes and he's trying to get me gassed and said well so long as to make sure that you still live we might just you see yourself becoming a judge and I and I wonder I mean probably not nobody imagines becoming the Chief Justice but I mean it was there was that a path that you saw as you did more of these prosecutions that you might want to take I really didn't have it in mind initially but I had the good fortune of having these high publicity cases of Sir hand case and the six arguments in the US Supreme Court and I think that brought me to the attention of the governor's office and I was encouraged to apply for a judgeship by one of the appellate court of appeal justices you know what presided over cases that I argued so I did and then it was a succession over the years of four different governors from both political parties if you're just joining us you're listening to political breakdown I'm Scott Shafer here with Marie Salada us and our guest this week is the former Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court brawl George so I want to ask you because I kind of touched on earlier you know the idea of political pressures but one of your I think first major rulings as Chief Justice was striking down on abortion law that would essentially that essentially required minors to get parental consent yes it was obvious he then as a now very controversial and I just wonder if that like to that conversation earlier like did you have anything in the back of your mind about while Republican appointed me to this position this is my first big move like did that way on you at all no that didn't but I'll tell you there was an attempt certainly to influence the outcome what did happen was there and been a ruling on that case the American pediatrics case that was not yet final at the time I was.

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