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Ronald M. George

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Ronald M. George
Ronald M. George gives a speech on March 10, 2009
27th Chief Justice of California
In office
May 1, 1996 – January 2, 2011
Appointed byPete Wilson
Preceded byMalcolm M. Lucas
Succeeded byTani Cantil-Sakauye
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of California
In office
September 3, 1991 – May 1, 1996
Appointed byPete Wilson
Preceded byAllen Broussard
Succeeded byJanice Rogers Brown
Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal, Second District
In office
August 27, 1987 – September 2, 1991
Appointed byGeorge Deukmejian
Preceded byAllen Broussard
Personal details
Ronald Marc George

(1940-03-11) March 11, 1940 (age 79)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Barbara J. Schneiderman (m. 1966)
Alma materPrinceton University (A.B.)
Stanford Law School (J.D.)

Ronald Marc George (born March 11, 1940) is the retired 27th Chief Justice of California, where he headed the Supreme Court of California and the Judicial Council of California. Governor Pete Wilson appointed George as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in 1991 and elevated George to Chief Justice in 1996.[1]

Education and early career[edit]

George grew up in Beverly Hills, the son of a Hungarian immigrant mother and French immigrant father.[2] A 1957 graduate of Beverly Hills High School,[3] George earned his A.B. from Princeton University in 1961 and his J.D. from Stanford Law School in 1964.[1][3]

Upon graduating from Stanford, George was a Deputy California Attorney General from 1965–1972.[1] As a Deputy Attorney General, he argued unsuccessfully on behalf of the State of California before the United States Supreme Court in Chimel v. California in 1969.[1] The following year, he again represented California before the U.S. Supreme Court, this time successfully defending the death penalty in McGautha v. California.[1] In 1971, he represented California as an amicus curiae in support of the successful argument of the State of Illinois in Kirby v. Illinois.[1]

In 1972, his final year as a Deputy Attorney General, George unsuccessfully argued in favor of the death penalty before the California Supreme Court in California v. Anderson but was successful in defending the conviction of Sirhan Sirhan in the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, a U.S. Senator and 1968 presidential candidate.[1] The ruling in California v. Anderson resulted in the dismissal of Aikens v. California as moot; George was to have represented the State of California in this case.[1]

Early judicial career[edit]

Governor Ronald Reagan appointed George as a Judge of the Los Angeles Municipal Court on April 20, 1972. George was elected to a full six-year term on November 2, 1976.[1][3] Governor Jerry Brown appointed him to the Los Angeles County Superior Court on December 23, 1977; George was elected to a full six-year term on November 7, 1978, and re-elected on November 6, 1984.[1][3]

As a Superior Court judge, George presided over the trial of Hillside Strangler Angelo Buono in 1981–1983.[1][3] George also presided over the trial of Marvin Gay Sr. for the slaying of Gay's son, the singer Marvin Gaye.[4] George was lauded for his extremely unusual decision to deny the motion by Los Angeles County District Attorney's office to dismiss all 10 counts of murder against Buono.[3] However, his unusual decision was speculated to be a result of his earlier decision to separate crucial counts of rape and sodomy, which in themselves would serve as evidence against the defendant, from the murder charges.[3] The prosecutors felt the evidence against Buono was so weak that it did not justify even an attempt to win at trial.[3] Judges rarely second-guess the prosecutors' judgment on such a matter (and George stated that he was "loath" to do so).[3] However, George's review of the evidence in the case caused him to feel so strongly that the prosecutors were in error that he did exactly that.[3] George reassigned the case to the California Attorney General's office, and that office successfully convicted Buono on nine of the 10 counts.[3] Thus, it was recognized that the judge, through his action to deny the earlier motion to dismiss, had ultimately prevented a serial killer from going free.[5] Oddly, Los Angeles County District Attorney John Van de Kamp had been elected California Attorney General in the middle of the lengthy trial, so a Van de Kamp-led District Attorney's office attempted to dismiss the unwinnable case only to have a Van de Kamp-led Attorney General's office win nine convictions in the case.[6]

Governor George Deukmejian appointed him to the California Second District Court of Appeal on July 23, 1987. George was confirmed and sworn in on August 27, 1987, and was elected to a full twelve-year term on November 6, 1990.[1][3]

Supreme Court[edit]

Governor Pete Wilson appointed Justice Ron George to the California Supreme Court on July 29, 1991.[1] George was confirmed and sworn in as an Associate Justice on September 3, 1991.[1] California voters elected him to a full twelve-year term on November 8, 1994.[1] Wilson appointed George as the 27th Chief Justice of California on March 28, 1996.[1] George was confirmed and sworn into office on May 1, 1996.[1] He was elected to a full twelve-year term on November 3, 1998, with 75.5% percent of the vote.[7][8]

George was occasionally floated as a candidate for justice of the United States Supreme Court as a conservative acceptable to Democrats, such as when Democratic United States Senator Barbara Boxer suggested George as a potential nominee for the seat on the Court vacated by Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement. Boxer described both George and his fellow California Supreme Court Justice Kathryn Werdegar, as Republicans who "reflect the spirit of Sandra Day O'Connor's tenure—independent and nonideological."[9]

In 2008, Justice George authored the opinion in the Supreme Court's 4-3 ruling in In re Marriage Cases legalizing same-sex marriage in California.[10] Citing the court's 1948 decision legalizing interracial marriages,[11] George's opinion found that sexual orientation is a protected class like race and gender, meaning that attempts to ban same-sex marriage would be subject to strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause of the California Constitution.[12] It was the first state high court in the country to do so.[12] Voters would overturn the decision less than six months later by passing Proposition 8 in the November 2008 elections.[13] However, Proposition 8 would itself be later overturned by a federal court in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, and thus In Re Marriage Cases was reinstated as valid constitutional law in California.

On July 14, 2010, Justice George announced he would not seek to be re-elected in 2010 and would therefore retire at the end of his term: January 2, 2011.[14][15][16][17][18] He was succeeded by Tani Cantil-Sakauye.[19]

In 2013, after his retirement, he published a book of memoirs, Chief: the quest for justice in California, about his term on the Supreme Court.[20][21][22]

Personal life[edit]

On January 30, 1966, George married Barbara J. Schneiderman in Los Angeles, and they have three sons: Eric, Andrew, Christopher.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Chief Justice Ronald M. George". Judicial Council of California. Retrieved June 14, 2011.
  2. ^ Dolan, Maura (December 30, 2010). "California Chief Justice Ronald George leaves historic legacy". Los Angeles Times.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Dolan, Maura (October 29, 1997). "Fighting for a people's court". Los Angeles Times. p. A1.
  4. ^ Ritz, David (2003), Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye, Da Capo Press, ISBN 9780306811913
  5. ^ "Justice George's legacy". Los Angeles Times. July 16, 2010.
  6. ^ Saunders, Debra J. (March 22, 1998). "True Justice". San Francisco Chronicle. p. 2. Retrieved September 30, 2017.
  7. ^ "Supreme Court, Statement of Vote - General Election November 3, 1998" (PDF). California Secretary of State. December 12, 1998. p. 21. Retrieved June 14, 2011.
  8. ^ "California State Government - November 3, 1998 General - California Supreme Court". Smart Voter Project of the League of Women Voters. February 16, 1999. Retrieved June 14, 2011.
  9. ^ Lochhead, Carolyn (July 13, 2005). "Bush asks senators for advice on court pick". San Francisco Chronicle.
  10. ^ Egelko, Bob (May 16, 2008). "State's top court strikes down marriage ban". San Francisco Chronicle.
  11. ^ Liptak, Adam (May 17, 2008). "Same-Sex Marriage and Racial Justice Find Common Ground". The New York Times.
  12. ^ a b Liptak, Adam (May 15, 2008). "California Court Affirms Right to Gay Marriage". The New York Times.
  13. ^ Miller, Cheryl (November 6, 2008). "Prop. 8 puts squeeze on Calif. chief justice". The National Law Journal.
  14. ^ Elias, Paul (July 14, 2010). "Calif Chief Justice George stepping down". San Jose Mercury News.
  15. ^ Dolan, Maura (July 14, 2010). "California Chief Justice Ronald George announces he will not run for reelection". Los Angeles Times.
  16. ^ Egelko, Bob (July 14, 2010). "State Chief Justice Ron George to retire". San Francisco Chronicle.
  17. ^ Winter, Michael (July 14, 2010). "Chief justice of California Supreme Court, Ronald George, to retire". USA Today.
  18. ^ Van Oot, Torey (July 14, 2010). "Chief Justice Ronald George to step down". Sacramento Bee.
  19. ^ "New Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye Takes Office Today" (PDF). Judicial Council of California. January 3, 2011. Retrieved June 14, 2011.
  20. ^ George, Ronald M.; McCreery, Laura (2013). Chief: the quest for justice in California. Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Public Policy Press. ISBN 9780877724445.
  21. ^ Dolan, Maura (November 6, 2013). "Former California chief justice looks back on his days on the bench". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 20, 2017.
  22. ^ "Former chief justice offers a behind-the-scenes look at his term". California Bar Journal. December 2013. Retrieved September 20, 2017.
  23. ^ Hager, Philip; Gillam, Jerry (July 30, 1991). "Wilson Names L.A. Justice to High Court". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 30, 2017.


External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Allen Broussard
Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal, Second District
August 27, 1987 – September 2, 1991
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Allen Broussard
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of California
September 3, 1991 – May 1, 1996
Succeeded by
Janice Rogers Brown
Preceded by
Malcolm M. Lucas
Chief Justice of California
May 1, 1996 – January 2, 2011
Succeeded by
Tani Cantil-Sakauye