Bird, Rose Elizabeth

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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Rose Elizabeth Bird served as the first woman on the California Supreme Court, becoming the chief justice of one of the most prominent appellate courts in the United States. Bird became a controversial figure during the 1980s, as her adamant opposition to CAPITAL PUNISHMENT drew fire from political conservatives. In 1986, these views led voters to remove her from office. In her nine years on the court, however, Bird led a liberal majority that strengthened environmental laws, consumer rights, and WOMEN'S RIGHTS.

Bird was born on November 2, 1936, in Tucson, Arizona. She spent her childhood in Arizona and New York, where she graduated from Long Island University in 1958. She attended graduate school in political science at the University of California at Berkeley in 1960 but switched her career path to law when she entered Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law in 1962. After graduation in 1965, Bird was admitted to the PRACTICE OF LAW in California.

Following graduation, Bird served a one-year term as a law clerk for the chief justice of the Nevada Supreme Court. In 1966 she joined the Santa Clara County, California, public defenders office. Bird remained in the public defenders office until 1974, serving successively as deputy public defender, senior trial deputy, and chief

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Rose Bird.


public defender of the appellate division. As head of the appellate division, Bird oversaw all public defender criminal appeals to the California Courts of Appeal and the California Supreme Court. In addition to these duties, Bird served as an adjunct professor of law at Stanford University Law School from 1972 to 1974.

Bird's eventual rise to the California Supreme Court began when she became the chauffeur during Democrat Jerry Brown's campaign for the governorship in 1974. Following his election, Brown appointed Bird to his cabinet as secretary of agriculture. She spent most of her time in that office working to settle a series of ongoing disputes between growers and farm unions. Moreover, she drafted reforms to the state's farm LABOR LAW and to consumer legislation.

In 1977, after twenty-two months in the cabinet, Governor Brown appointed Bird, then age 40, as chief justice of the California Supreme Court. She gained immediate national prominence because she was the first woman to serve on the state's high court. As a member of a liberal majority, Bird established herself as a brilliant...

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