In an interview in today's Los Angeles Times, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye expressed her concerns about the death penalty and encouraged a public debate about its abolition.
"I don't think it is working," said Cantil-Sakauye, elevated from the Court of Appeal in Sacramento to the California Supreme Court by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "It's not effective. We know that."
California's death penalty requires "structural change, and we don't have the money to create the kind of change that is needed," she said. "Everyone is laboring under a staggering load."
In response to a question, she said she supported capital punishment "only in the sense I apply the law and I believe the system is fair.... In that sense, yes."
But the chief justice quickly reframed the question.
"I don't know if the question is whether you believe in it anymore. I think the greater question is its effectiveness and given the choices we face in California, should we have a merit-based discussion on its effectiveness and costs?"
I think that is a terrific distinction between the judicial role of applying the law and the public and legislative law of reevaluating and changing it.