Newsom touts the diversity of his California judges
Sure there are those ambitious climate goals, the shuttered prisons, the state’s ever-worsening homelessness crisis and the three-year COVID state of emergency. But among the many changes that will define Gov. Gavin Newsom’s legacy as political leader of California, one of the most enduring, if under-appreciated, is his reshaping of the judiciary.
According to new judicial appointment data his press office promoted this week, Newsom has added 288 new members to the state bench. On its face, that number isn’t all that remarkable. Over the course of his two final terms as governor, Jerry Brown appointed 644. Before him, Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed more than 600.
Instead, these are the statistics that Newsom wanted to highlight:
- 146 (51%) of his judges are women;
- At least 169 (59%) are people of color.
As of last year, 40% of sitting judges and justices were women and roughly two-thirds were white.
As my colleague Byrhonda Lyons has written, gender and ethnic diversity on the bench has been a growing emphasis for California governors. Nearly 40% of Brown’s appointees were people of color, compared to just 27% of Schwarzenegger’s.
- Caveat: The overall trend toward a more diverse bench isn’t reflected across the whole state. As the Bay Area Reporter noted, only 17 out of the state’s 58 county trial courts report having any LGBTQ judges. And in 26 counties — including majority non-white Ventura, Yolo and Kings — more than 80% of the trial court judges were white.
Newsom has gone out of his way to make demographic “firsts” with his appointments. On the state Supreme Court, Newsom picked Patricia Guerrero as chief justice, a Latina, and appointed Justice Martin Jenkins, who is openly gay.
Two more firsts: Alex Padilla is the first Latino to serve as a U.S. senator from California and Shirley Weber is the first Black Secretary of State — both Newsom picks before he won reelection in 2022.
State judicial appointments don’t generate the same attention or controversy as they do at the federal level. But if Newsom ever were to run for president — which, he has repeatedly stressed, he has no intention of doing — he might point to statistics like the ones above as more proof that, as he is so fond of saying, California doesn’t just tolerate diversity, we celebrate it.
But he probably won’t be pointing to this statistic: 70% of registered California voters in a new survey said they do not want Newsom to run for president in 2024.
That number, from a Quinnipiac poll conducted in late February, shouldn’t be all that surprising. After all, Newsom isn’t running, most Republicans surveyed are sure not to support a Newsom presidential run and among Democrats, 86% approved of President Biden and are therefore less likely to support replacing him after a single term.
Other polling tidbits:
- 22% of respondents named homelessness as the state’s “most urgent” problem
- More voters than not had no strong feelings about any of the three Democrats running for U.S. Senate — Rep. Adam Schiff (38% said they “haven’t heard enough”), Rep. Katie Porter (59%) and Rep. Barbara Lee (71%)
- Two-thirds said they would oppose allowing incarcerated Californians to vote from prison, a state ballot measure proposed by Assemblymember Isaac Bryan, a Culver City Democrat.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 11,127,153 confirmed cases and 100,424 total deaths, according to state data now updated just once a week on Thursdays.CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.California has administered 88,208,666 total vaccine doses, and 72.7% of eligible Californians have received their primary vaccine series.
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1 The coming Medi-Cal cliff
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, enrollment in Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for low-income people, has ballooned from a little more than 13 million in 2019 to 15.4 million today, more than a third of the state’s population.
But as CalMatters health reporter Ana B. Ibarra explains, that balloon may be about to pop.
That’s in part for obvious reasons: During a pandemic, demand for health care was especially high and many of the people who lost jobs in the first months of the public health emergency suddenly found themselves eligible for the state’s free or low-cost coverage.
But there was another, technical reason for the surge in numbers: One of the first COVID relief bills passed by Congress in March 2020 prohibited states from kicking people off government-sponsored health plans during a public health emergency.
Now that the national public health emergency is coming to an end, California is going to restart the annual process of checking whether Medi-Cal enrollees still qualify for the program — kicking them off if they don’t.
Public health advocates are worried that as many as 2 to 3 million Medi-Cal patients are going to be caught off guard by the transition and could fall through the cracks.
- John Baackes, CEO of L.A. Care: “It’s just unfathomable to me that the state thinks that this is all going to happen without huge confusion on the part of the people we’re trying to serve.”
2 A new nuclear lifeline
Federal regulators gave California’s last nuclear power plant a new lease on life on Thursday.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruled that Pacific Gas & Electric can keep running the Diablo Canyon plant under its current license past its scheduled expiration date of 2025 while the utility seeks a longer-term extension.
According to CalMatters’ environment reporter Nadia Lopez, PG&E is seeking a 20-year extension, a customary duration for nuclear power plant applications, though the Legislature only extended the plant’s legal life until 2030.
What to do about Diablo is an increasingly pressing concern as California commits to ever-more ambitious goals to decarbonize its grid and electrify the vehicles on its roads. The nuclear power plant near San Luis Obispo provides roughly 10% of the state’s electricity — and in a steady and reliable flow needed to balance out intermittent wind and solar power.
Gov. Newsom, who pushed the Diablo extension, visited the plant on Wednesday, without any public notice.
- Newsom, in a press release Thursday: “As we experienced during the record heat wave last September, climate change-driven extreme events are causing unprecedented stress on our power grid — the Diablo Canyon Power Plant is important to support energy reliability as we accelerate progress towards achieving our clean energy and climate goals.”
Though the 38-year-old plant serves as a linchpin for California’s green grid goals, environmental groups are divided about keeping it open:
- Dan Richard, president of Carbon Free California: “Diablo Canyon is providing vital carbon free energy at a stable price and can do so for many years to come.”
- Hallie Templeton, legal director of Friends of the Earth: The decision is “an ominous warning sign for how independent the NRC will be in evaluating the earthquake risk and the overall operational integrity of the Diablo Canyon reactors.”
3 Another big snow for CA
When it rains, it pours…and hails and sleets and snows.
That’s been the story of California’s relentlessly stormy winter. Now another wet winter storm is barreling into the state.
Across the central and northern Sierra, from Grass Valley up to Shasta County, the National Weather Service is forecasting as much as five feet of fresh snow between Saturday and Monday, with winds gusting up to 60 mph.
- The NWS winter storm watch: “Travel could be dangerous to impossible…Blowing snow will cause white-out conditions at times.“
With all that snow, there’s good news and bad news.
The bad news:
- Newsom declared states of emergency in 13 snow-socked counties.
- The National Guard will help stranded residents and vacationers in the San Bernardino Mountains, after local emergency teams have responded to nearly 100 rescue calls already.
The good news:
- Updated numbers from the federal U.S. Drought Monitor show that roughly half the state is now experiencing drought conditions, down from nearly 100% at the beginning of the year.
- The water content of the Sierra snowpack is at 170% of its April 1 average, with another measurement scheduled for today.
But no, the drought still isn’t over — especially not in the parched parts of California where water is most desperately needed. The bulk of the Central Valley is still considered “abnormally dry.”
On Thursday, state water regulators rejected the groundwater plans of six local water agencies across the San Joaquin Valley, deeming them inadequate at stopping wells from drying up and land from subsiding.
As CalMatters’ Alastair Bland explains, the long-awaited decision by the Department of Water Resources marks a major test of a landmark law from 2014 meant to end a crisis of groundwater generations in the making.
Next year, voters should block new oil drilling regulations that could force California to look elsewhere for its supply, writes Rock Zierman, CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Association.
Gov. Newsom could stop unsafe oil drilling before the referendum next year, writes Hollin Kretzmann, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute.
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