The Rise and Fall of Rose Elizabeth Bird

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The Rise and Fall of
Rose Elizabeth Bird

Justice Rose Bird, in the sixty-one capital cases heard by the California Supreme Court while she served as its Chief Justice, never voted to uphold a death sentence. Chief Justice Rose Bird of the California Supreme Court was removed from office in 1986 by California voters because of the extremely high percentage rates of which she handed down rulings in favor of the defendant in cases both reviewed by the court and in criminal cases. Not only was her “soft on crime” stance the cause for her removal from office and a major source of political controversy in the 1980’s, it is still relevant in Los Angeles and California politics and still plays a major role in the perception of elected officials today such as former governor of California and now Attorney General Edmund Jerrold “Jerry” Brown, Jr.. Despite the fact that the appointment of Rose Bird to The Supreme Court Chief Justice was a major accomplishment for women, her actions while in office, which were viewed as “soft on crime”, were the cause of much political grievance and strife to Los Angeles residents in the 1980’s and can still be seen in the broad scope of California politics today, current officials, and court rulings.

Bird was born on November 2, 1936 as Rose Elizabeth Bird in Tucson, Arizona. She spent her early childhood as the youngest of three children in Arizona with her parents who ran a chicken farm. In 1941 her parents separated and shortly after, her father died, leaving her mother a widow with three children to provide for. After the death of her father, Rose’s mother, Anne, moved Rose and her two older brothers to New York which was originally Anne’s home state. Despite her best efforts, the single mother struggled to make ends meet and the family lived in poverty. Even though the family struggled to make ends meet financially, Bird was always noted as a standout student and an ambitious scholar. Her hard work and devotion to her studies earned Bird a scholarship out of high school to attend Long Island University where she majored in English in preparation to become a journalist. After graduating from Long Island University magna cum laude in 1958 with her bachelor’s degree, Bird made a decision that would shape not only her future, but the future of politics, California, and Los Angeles.

In 1960 Bird left New York behind and headed to California to attend graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley. Initially she planned on studying political science, but after she completed an internship in the state Legislature in Sacramento she decided to switch her studies to law because she felt that lawyers have the most influence on public policy. Bird graduated from Berkeley in 1965 with her law degree and was then admitted to the Practice of Law in California. Following her graduation, Bird embarked on a career in politics and law that established various groundbreaking advances for women in that particular field. Aside from her accomplishments in paving the way for women in law, Bird’s career was marked by controversy that affected multiple aspects of life in Los Angeles.

Following her success in college and education, Rose Bird began a career that was marked with several accomplishments and firsts. The first groundbreaking career move that Bird made was to serve as the first female law clerk in the Supreme Court of Nevada. She served a one year term in the Nevada Supreme Court before she began her attempt to accomplish her next career goal. Bird set the goal of working for the public defenders office and initially applied for the job in Sacramento. After submitting her resume Bird attended an interview in which she was told that the Sacramento office simply would not hire a woman for undisclosed reasons. After her disappointing rejection from the Sacramento office, Bird refused to give up, and instead applied for a position at the Santa Clara...
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