SAN FRANCISCO — California Supreme Court Justice Joyce Kennard retired on April 5, the 25th anniversary of her appointment by Gov. George Deukmejian.

The court’s longest-serving justice announced her retirement in February in a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown. Referring to her immigrant background, she wrote, “Any success I achieved could have happened only in America, a land that encourages impossible dreams, a land where one can succeed against all odds.”

Joyce Kennard
Joyce Kennard

Kennard, 72, was born in Indonesia to parents of Dutch, Indonesian, Chinese and German descent and spent her infancy in a Japanese internment camp on Java, where her father died. She spent her teen years in the Netherlands and lost part of her right leg to an infection.

After moving to the U.S. at age 20, she attended Pasadena City College, earned her MPA and law degree at USC, served as a deputy attorney general, and was appointed to the Los Angeles County Municipal Court and Superior Court and the state Court of Appeal.

She was elected to the Supreme Court in 1990 and re-elected in 1994 and 2006. Though appointed by a conservative Republican governor, Kennard was an independent voice on the court, often siding with her liberal colleagues on such issues as gay rights.

Kennard decided not to serve the rest of her term, which expires in 2018.

“The state and its people have been very well served by Justice Kennard, and her independence and intellectual fortitude have left a lasting mark on the court,” Brown said in a statement.

The retirement gives Brown his second Supreme Court nomination. His first appointee was Justice Goodwin Liu in 2011.

Also serving on the court are Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye and Justices Marvin Baxter, Kathryn Werdegar, Ming Chin and Carol Corrigan.

Brown’s nominee will be subject to confirmation by the Commission on Judicial Appointments, which is composed of Cantil-Sakauye, Attorney General Kamala Harris, and Court of Appeal Justice Joan Dempsey Klein. Before Kennard’s retirement, four of the seven justices were of Asian descent.

Brown is expected to face pressure to nominate a Latino or African American to fill the vacancy.

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