Justice Ming W. Chin will retire from the Supreme Court of California on August 31, 2020, after 25 years on the State’s highest court. Appointed in 1996 by then Governor Pete Wilson, Justice Chin is the high court’s longest sitting member, having served with three different chief justices. Justice Chin is the high court’s longest sitting member and its first Chinese-American justice.
During his tenure on the Supreme Court, Justice Chin authored more than 350 majority opinions and more than 100 separate opinions, including several on environmental and land use issues. Justice Chin penned the widely cited opinion in Berkeley Hillside Preservation v. City of Berkeley, (2015) 60 Cal.4th 1086, where he clarified the definition of “unusual circumstances” within the exceptions to CEQA exemptions and articulated a two-part test with a bifurcated standard of review for determining whether the exception applies. Ten years prior, in Sierra Club v. California Coastal Com., (2005) 35 Cal.4th 839, Justice Chin upheld the California Coastal Commission’s reading of the California Coastal Act in approving a development permit. In his ruling, Justice Chin looked to the “statutory framework” and the “evolution of…legislative history” but ultimately relied on a facial reading of the Act to affirm agency discretion. More recently, in Sierra Club v. County of Fresno, (2018) 6 Cal.5th 502, he issued the “Friant Ranch” decision that established a hybrid CEQA standard of review for claims challenging the informational sufficiency of an EIR’s discussion of significant impacts, where a “do novo” review is appropriate for “a mixed question” of fact and law that “requires a determination whether statutory criteria were satisfied” and “a more deferential standard is warranted” for predominantly “factual questions.” Justice Chin also rendered highly impactful opinions on water rights, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. Superior Court, (2006) 40 Cal.4th 239 and City of Barstow v. Mojave Water Agency, (2000) 23 Cal.4th 1224; endangered species, Central Coast Forest Assn. v. Fish & Game Com., (2017) 2 Cal.5th 594; and eminent domain, Mt. San Jacinto Community College Dist. v. Superior Court, (2007) 40 Cal.4th 648, to name a few.
Justice Chin is the high court’s longest sitting member and its first Chinese-American justice. He grew up the son of Chinese immigrants who, though unable to attend school themselves, taught he and his seven siblings the importance of education. Justice Chin’s two children both followed his footsteps into the law and became attorneys—Jason Chin, an Alameda County Superior Court judge, and Jennifer Chin, senior counsel for the University of California’s Office of the President.