Gala 2023 Honoree: Hon. Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye
Former California Supreme Court Chief Justice • President & CEO, Public Policy Institute of California
Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye is president and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that works to improve public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research. She assumed this role in January 2023.
Prior to joining PPIC, she served as the Chief Justice of California for 12 years. Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye established herself as one of the country’s leading proponents of equal access to justice, civic education, and reform of court funding practices that unfairly affect the poor.
When she was sworn into office in January 2011 as the 28th Chief Justice of California, she became the first person of color and the second woman to serve as the state’s chief justice.
Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye raised awareness of the unfair financial impact of fines, fees, and the bail system on the poor. She also sought to advance bail system reform that would address concerns about fairness and public safety.
As leader of California’s judicial branch and chair of the Judicial Council, Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye improved the branch’s efficiency, accountability, and transparency in how it conducts business, sets policy, and discloses information. She opened meetings of the Judicial Council and its advisory bodies that were once closed to the public and made public comment more accessible. Judicial Council meetings are now webcast, as are state Supreme Court oral arguments. She oversaw changes in court rules that improved how judicial branch entities prevent and address harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and inappropriate workplace conduct. During the COVID-19 pandemic she advanced remote court operations and issued hundreds of emergency orders so that courts continued to operate safely. She also launched a program to make retired judges available to fast track the resolution of certain criminal cases.
She has been recognized for her early work on domestic violence issues, support for minority bar associations, and advancing the role of women and minorities in the legal profession. She helped revitalize civic learning as chief justice through her Power of Democracy initiative. She, along with other state leaders, fulfilled one of this initiative’s goals in July 2016 when the State Board of Education unanimously approved an instructional framework that encourages civic learning. In 2019, she was honored with the Sandra Day O’Connor Award by the National Center for State Courts for her work inspiring, promoting, and improving civics education.
As California’s chief justice she convened leaders to address such issues as implicit bias, human trafficking, and truancy. All of her initiatives while leading the judicial branch supported her vision for a branch that provides physical access through safe and secure courthouses, remote access through technology initiatives, and equal access to all Californians.
Before she was elected statewide as the chief justice of California, she served more than 20 years on California appellate and trial courts and was appointed or elevated to higher office by three governors. Earlier in her career she served as a deputy district attorney for the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office and on the senior staff of Governor George Deukmejian, first as deputy legal affairs secretary and later as a deputy legislative secretary. She holds a BA and a JD from the University of California, Davis.