The esteemed associate justice of the California Supreme Court discusses his career, California’s deficit, and his abiding love of classic cars.
Justice Marvin Baxter ’66 and his wife, Jane, have been among UC Hastings’ most distinguished friends for many years. Justice Baxter, who has served on the California Supreme Court since 1991, is a director emeritus of the law school and received its Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award in 1998. The Baxters were honored recently by anonymous family donors who made a gift to UC Hastings in the Baxters’ names. The gift was used to create a new Appellate Law Center, now the home of the school’s award-winning Moot Court teams.
Q: What are some of your fondest memories of UC Hastings?
A: I had three wonderful years at UC Hastings, which at the time had the premier law faculty in the nation. I had William Prosser for torts, Rollin Morris Perkins for criminal law, and Everett Fraser for property. They were members of the 65 Club, which was Dean Snodgrass’ vision to recruit eminent faculty who had reached mandatory retirement age at other law schools.
Q: In 1983, Gov. George Deukmejian named you appointments secretary. What did that position entail?
A: My responsibilities involved advising the governor on appointments to the executive and judicial branches of government. In the six years that I held that position, I assisted in the appointment of more than 700 judges. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because Gov. Deukmejian believed that the most important and lasting responsibility a governor has is the appointment of judges.
Q: What qualities did you look for in candidates for the bench?
A: Integrity, reputation, and industriousness. You also consider where the individual is from in terms of judicial philosophy—whether the person view the judicial role as strictly interpreting the law as opposed to creating the law. It is also important to know if there are any personal, moral, or religious beliefs that would preclude the candidate from carrying out the law.
Q: What has been the most gratifying aspect of serving on the California Supreme Court?
A: One constant has been having three outstanding chief justices: Malcolm Lucas, Ron George, and Tani Cantil-Sakauye. As important, I have had outstanding colleagues throughout this period. Historians will have their views as to how the court has changed philosophically over the years. But I do not see it in those terms. I see it as a wonderful opportunity to do fulfilling work.
Q: What do California’s budget problems mean for the state judiciary?
A: With California’s $16 billion deficit, the leaders of the Judicial Council are concerned about the impact that cuts will have on the state judiciary. It is not a good situation. You do not want to compromise the quality of individuals who are attracted to a judicial career because of cutbacks to our resources. Our sister branch leaders have to consider how these cuts will affect individuals as they make career decisions.
Q: What do you do to relax?
A: I have always loved old cars. I grew up in Fowler, near Fresno, where my dad had a Chevrolet garage. My brother and I used to work in the garage, helping the mechanics overhaul motors. By osmosis, we learned to overhaul motors, too.
As kids, we had love affairs with all the new cars that came out. I remember when the Corvette was introduced in 1953. We begged my dad to get one for mom, but back then only celebrities drove them. My wife and I have a 1958 turquoise-and-white Corvette. We like going on Sunday drives, but we only take the Corvette out if the conditions are perfect.
Q: Did you retain your skills as an auto mechanic?
A: I could still overhaul an old car today, but I wouldn’t try it one a new one. They just have too many bells and whistles.
What advice would you give a young lawyer who aspires to become a judge?
The most important advice I can give a lawyer with judicial ambitions is to conduct himself or herself in a way so as to establish an outstanding reputation, both in terms of practicing law and contributing to the community. Someone may have an outstanding record of courtroom victories but may be detested for the tactics used, for example. But if you are concerned about your reputation, you will also be concerned about your ability, your ethics, and how you treat opposing counsel, litigants, and the judges before whom you appear.