Facebook pixel Pepperdine Caruso Law Welcomes Former Chief Justice of California Tani Cantil-Sakauye for President's Speaker Series - Surf Report | Pepperdine Caruso School of Law Skip to main content
Pepperdine | Caruso School of Law

Pepperdine Caruso Law Welcomes Former Chief Justice of California Tani Cantil-Sakauye for President's Speaker Series

On February 29, Pepperdine Caruso Law welcomed the former chief justice of California Tani-Cantil-Sakauye for the Pepperdine University President's Speaker's Series. Introduced by University president Jim Gash and Caruso Law dean Paul Caron, Cantil-Sakauye, who is president and CEO of the Pubic Policy Institute of California, discussed civil discourse and public policy during her presentation, "What the Future Holds for Californians." Professor Naomi Goodno moderated the discussion in which Cantil-Sakauye reflected on her distinguished legal and judicial career, her experience breaking barriers as the first Filipino and first woman of color to serve as California's chief justice, and her views on the challenges facing California’s future.

Goodno began the conversation by asking Cantil-Sakauye to discuss the pivotal moments that shaped her career. Cantil-Sakauye explained she came from a “lower income, lower education family” and was often looked down upon within her own Filipino community for being the youngest in her family and a girl. “In a community where I was often overlooked or interrupted, I developed a keen sense of observation and a keen sense of seeing the person who isn't participating and the person who hasn't been heard,” she shared. “My parents didn't have an education, so that became the key component of my life—to get an education and find a career path.” 

A defining moment in her career, Cantil-Sakauye said, came when she began working for governor George Deukmejian and realized the impact and influence of critical positions in government. “I saw the seat of power and the three branches of government in action—I also witnessed law made, law directed, and law hijacked. I learned so much about leadership, compassion, kindness, and civility working at such a high level of public service. That changed my life forever, and I don't really know where I would have gone had I not had that experience.”

Reflecting on the triumphs of her career and her role breaking barriers for women in the government sector, she explained it was the difficult moments that challenged and helped advance her the most professionally. “When I reflect on all of the experiences I had working my way up and through all the good, it was mostly the marginal and negative moments that really helped me.”

Goodno and Cantil-Sakauye discussed the challenges and strengths of California looking ahead to the future. Cantil-Sakauye explained that diversity of perspective is an important aspect of any state’s success and that one of California’s key strengths is the state’s diversity of cultures, ideas, and values. She commented that continuing to recognize and pursue the needs of a large and diverse population and to craft sound statewide public policy can be accomplished through civil discourse, compromise, and mediation.

“California is unique, and its trends need to be studied, because 10 years from now, if we don't intervene in some of these trends or shape them in some way, they can end up shaping us,” said Cantil-Sakauye. “We do need different voices at the table to start to meet unmet needs and to ask and question assumptions. I'm not saying questioning assumptions always means change, but it helps other people understand why we operate the way we do, and it's important to reassess our structures so we can identify where change is needed.”

During her presentation, Cantil-Sakauye advised Caruso Law students to approach their own legal careers with a compass, rather than a map, because a compass not only shows true north, but also a full range of possibilities. She recommended that law students think about opportunities and continue to build news skills, volunteer, read widely, and ask questions.

When asked about the influence of the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, Cantil-Sakauye commented, "Some of the most distinguished attorneys who decide they want transition into mediation go to the Straus Institute. Straus trains mediators, and this world, state, and municipality need more mediation. Mediation gives people personal and professional satisfaction, and a true chance at feeling justice."

Cantil-Sakauye last visted Pepperdine as the Caruso Law 2014 commencement ceremony speaker.

The full broadcast of Cantil-Sakauye’s discussion may be found at President’s Speaker Series - Tani Cantil-Sakauye