Mayor Tom Bradley, apparently seeking to defuse the state's most explosive issue, said today that he will not reveal whether he plans to vote for reconfirmation of state Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose E. Bird.
Bradley, a Democrat hoping to unseat Gov. George Deukmejian (R) this year, said, "I will defend the basic American principle that separates our courts from partisan politics." He encouraged all candidates for office to refrain from commenting on the court.
Bird and several other Supreme Court justices must be reconfirmed by a majority of voters in November. Polls indicate that she would lose such a vote now because, despite strong popular support in the state for capital punishment, she has never voted to affirm a death penalty case.
Deukmejian, a supporter of the death penalty and an opponent of Bird, has chided Bradley for failing to reveal his views on the judicial election. At a crowded news conference today, Bradley sought to deflect that criticism by strongly underlining his support for the death penalty.
Bradley said he disagreed with some of Bird's decisions on capital cases and remembered his frustration when, as a Los Angeles police officer, he saw a judge release one of his prisoners. "Sometimes I privately condemned the judge," he said. "It was difficult to do otherwise."
"I know why so many people, many of them thoughtful and principled, will vote against Chief Justice Rose Bird," he said. "But I also believe it is wrong, very wrong, for a politician in a partisan campaign to participate in efforts to remove a Supreme Court justice . . . . Inevitably, such efforts intimidate judges and undermine the American principle, established more than 200 years ago, that courts must act independently of politicians and political moods."
He called Deukmejian "irresponsible" for saying he also would oppose two other justices, also Democratic appointees like Bird, if they did not show some support for the death penalty in future cases.
"Justices should never be asked to offer up a human life as a way of purchasing a governor's support," Bradley said. His staff distributed a 23-page guide tracing the principle of judicial independence through the Declaration of Independence, the Reconstruction era, the "Red scare" of the 1920s and the Nuremberg Trials.