“I’ve been a Republican since I was 18,” she said. “And I never really gave it a great deal of thought, because always there has been a give and take on both sides — nothing beyond the normal give and take of the heat of politics.”
She added, however, that she increasingly sensed "a certain amount of polarization [between the two parties] that doesn’t reflect who I am as a person and the values I have as a person.”
As CALmatters first reported Thursday, Cantil-Sakauye said the final straw came after watching the Senate confirmation hearings of then-Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh.
During the emotional and highly partisan hearings, Kavanaugh denied sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford, now a California psychology professor, at a house party when they were both high school students in the 1980s.
In a 50-48 vote, the Senate ultimately confirmed Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in early October, about a month before the midterm elections.
“I saw the hearings not as a chief justice, but I saw it as a mother of two young women. And I was greatly disturbed by the process,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “It was partisan. It was the tone. It was hiring a woman to place questions to another woman. It was the atmosphere, the timing."
Cantil-Sakauye said she went online the night of the hearing and re-registered as a voter with no party preference. She told her husband and the person in charge of changing her biography on the California courts website — but otherwise did not think it was a big deal. It was a personal decision, she said.
“In the 28 years that I’ve been on the bench, my party has been referred to but it’s never been a factor in how I [work],” she said. “ . . . I had completely forgotten about it.”
It was not until Thursday that Cantil-Sakauye publicly confirmed she had left the Republican Party, after CALmatters columnist Dan Morain followed up on remarks she had made at a judicial panel in Washington. There, she had expressed concern about legislative attacks on the judicial branch.
Cantil-Sakauye was nominated as chief justice by former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, and sworn into office on Jan. 3, 2011. She is the first Filipina American and the second woman to serve as the state’s chief justice, according to her judicial biography.
Cantil-Sakauye first clashed with President Trump’s administration last spring, expressing concerns about U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers seen “stalking" undocumented immigrants in California courthouses.
In a public letter to then-U. S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, she asked federal law enforcement to cease such activity in courthouses.
“Most Americans have more daily contact with their state and local governments than with the federal government, and I am concerned about the impact on public trust and confidence in our state court system if the public feels that our state institutions are being used to facilitate other goals and objectives, no matter how expedient they may be,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote then.
Sessions and Kelly wrote back, disagreeing with her characterization of federal law enforcement officers as “stalking” and implying it was California’s sanctuary policies that “occasionally necessitate ICE officers and agents to make arrests at courthouses and other public places.”
In a subsequent guest column for The Washington Post, Cantil-Sakauye stressed she was not against enforcement of U.S. immigration laws.
“I ask for sensible enforcement tactics that do not undermine due process, fairness and access to justice in our state court systems,” she wrote:
You don’t have to read the Federalist Papers or be fortunate enough to get a ticket to the musical “Hamilton” to recognize the elegant weave of checks and balances set up by our Founders. Our three branches of government are co-equal; our local, state and federal governments have overlapping authority. Each branch and each entity should take care not to act in a way that undermines the trust and confidence of another branch or entity.
Cantil-Sakauye joins scores of other officials and high-profile political figures to abandon the Republican Party — and in some cases switch over to the Democrats' side — since Trump was elected in 2016.
Just this week, Kansas state senator Barbara Bollier left the Republican Party and joined the Democrats, telling the Wichita Eagle she “cannot be complicit in supporting” Trump and his policies.
Like the California chief justice, U.S. Naval War College professor Tom Nichols cited the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings as what led him to quit the “new Trumpist GOP” party and re-register as an independent.
“So I’m out,” Nichols wrote in a column for the Atlantic. “The Trumpers and the hucksters and the consultants and the hangers-on, like a colony of bees that exist only to sting and die, have swarmed together in a dangerous but suicidal cloud, and when that mindless hive finally extinguishes itself in a blaze of venom, there will be nothing left.”
Others who have abandoned the GOP ship recently include Washington Post conservative columnists George F. Will and Max Boot; MSNBC host and former congressman Joe Scarborough; and longtime Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, who was a senior adviser to the presidential campaign of the late senator John McCain.
It has, at times, been a two-way street, however. Last summer, West Virginia’s governor, former Democrat Jim Justice, decided to switch to the Republican Party after six months in office — and made the announcement at a Trump rally.
There had been signs, among them that Justice had already been a former Republican and he was close to Trump’s adult children.
“He was the first, and one of the only, big-name Democrats to say he wouldn’t be voting for Hillary Clinton,” The Post’s Amber Phillips reported then. “ . . . In other words, Justice’s departure doesn’t mean Democrats are fleeing their party because they finally saw the light and decided to become Republican.”