A vacancy on the California Supreme Court has brought predictable calls for a "diversity" appointment -- predictable but, in this case, it may be hard to ignore.
Retiring Justice Joyce Kennard leaves big shoes to fill. In terms of judicial intellect, Kennard has been energetic and pleasingly nonideological in her 25 years on the court. When it comes to diversity, she's a one-person pie chart, an Indonesia-born, Dutch-accented woman who walks with the aid of a prosthesis and cane after losing part of her right leg to illness as a teenager.
While we applaud Gov. Jerry Brown placing a high price on intellect, the governor can do a lot to promote inclusion by also considering ethnicity as he looks to replace Kennard, who steps down April 5.
Brown will face pressure to appoint a Latino. This is more than an interest group seeking political advantage; it's a sizable community seeking the bare minimum representation on the state's high court.
Many residents of liberal-leaning California may be surprised to learn that the Supreme Court has no Latinos or African Americans among its seven members, of whom six were appointed by Republican Govs. George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The void has existed since Carlos Moreno retired three years ago. Brown named Goodwin Liu to Moreno's slot.
With issues involving Hispanic immigrants, documented and undocumented, so prominent in California politics and law, the state Supreme Court should have a Latino face.
We might not believe this strongly that Brown should seek diversity on the court if it weren't for two things:
First, Brown will be able to choose from a long list of strong candidates, and can -- and should -- be expected to make their intellect and judicial views the top priorities before considering ethnicity, gender and the like.
Second, the point is not to create an automatic "pro-Latino" vote on the court. It is to take a step toward having a court that represents a variety of California experiences and viewpoints. In any case, good justices are not automatic about anything. The unpredictable Kennard was a prime example.
Kennard may have disappointed Deukmejian with many of her unexpectedly liberal stances. (Republican governors may be disappointed by many of their appointments; last month, in the latest headline-grabbing case involving Latino immigrants, the court ruled unanimously that an undocumented immigrant may receive a California law license.)
But for most of us, Kennard's story is wonderful -- an immigrant who put herself through Pasadena City College, the University of Southern California and USC Law School, and rose from a Los Angeles Municipal Court judgeship to the state Supreme Court in three years.
She will be, indeed, hard to replace. The right replacement, though, will enhance the court by making it more representative of California.