Last week, the California Supreme Court decided to let stand a lower appellate court decision holding that bumble bees are “fish” under the state Endangered Species Act. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, anticipated (quite correctly!) that her ruling would puzzle the public. She wrote:
…[O]ur decision not to order review will be misconstrued by some as an affirmative determination by this court that under the law, bumble bees are fish. A better-informed observer might ask: How can the court pass up this opportunity to review the Court of Appeal’s interpretation of the Fish and Game Code, which seems so contrary to common knowledge that bumble bees are not a type of fish? Doesn’t this clear disconnect necessarily amount to “an important question of law” … warranting this court’s intervention, because the Legislature could not possibly have intended such a result?
Were things always that simple.
Well, as a matter of fact, some things are always that simple. It is, and always has been, a simple fact that bumble bees are not fish. Pretending that the law provides otherwise – even while acknowledging that “the Legislature could not possibly have intended such a result” – is worse than judicial error. It is a self-inflicted wound on the credibility of that beleaguered branch of government. Polls show that in recent years the public has already been losing confidence in our judicial system. Little wonder.
How did this happen?