California’s Chief Justice, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, announced yesterday that she had left the Republican Party and had re-registered without party affiliation. She explained that her decision had been spurred by the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I’ve been thinking about it for some time,” Cantil-Sakauye said, noting that she had discussed her decision with her husband and friends. They told her, Cantil-Sakauye said, “you didn’t leave the party. The party left you.”
Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye is, of course, entitled to do whatever she wishes with her party affiliation, and she joins many prominent former Republicans who have left the party since the election of Donald Trump. There is nothing in the least bit wrong with her personal decision. But then she dropped this little nugget:
“I felt compelled to make a choice now. It better suits what I do and how I approach issues.”
The Chief Justice could have simply stated that she had changed parties as a personal matter, and that no party influenced her decisions on the cases that came before her. Now she has made her political beliefs an explicit part of her job description. I do not want to suggest at all that judges are oblivious to politics, or even that political considerations do not affect judicial decisions. But to place one’s own party affiliation at the core of “what [one] do[es] and how [one] approach[es] issues” is singularly unhelpful for building confidence in the judiciary.