Carol Corrigan is an associate justice of the California Supreme Court, the highest level court in the State of California. Nominated by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, she was confirmed in 2006. Her current role is the culmination of a lifelong love of learning and personal achievement.
Justice Corrigan grew up in Stockton, California. The daughter of a newspaperman and a librarian, she knew early on that she would go to college and was the first in her family to do so. While her parents were high school graduates, well-read, and big believers in higher education, they never had the opportunity or means to further their own education. While she always knew that higher education was in her future, it was still daunting for her to prepare for something so unknown.
Her decision to attend Holy Names University (HNU) was partially driven by the school’s size, its location in the Bay Area, and the feeling that she would not get lost in the shuffle. Interested in being a teacher, she was also attracted to the school’s reputation as a Catholic liberal arts institution.
“At Holy Names, I found myself surrounded by people that wanted to take themselves to the next level. There was a real opportunity to be challenged to express your ideas, refine them, and defend them,” said Justice Corrigan. “The classes were smaller and I was taught by people who were devoted to their career and committed to teaching.”
HNU was founded in 1868 by the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. The university offers a liberal arts education rooted in the Catholic tradition, empowering a diverse student body for leadership and service. The university – which strove to make education accessible and cost-effective for everyone, regardless of background or status – worked closely with Justice Corrigan’s family to ensure that they could make the young student’s dream of higher education a reality.
“There weren’t many financial aid and grant opportunities based on need in the mid-60s, especially at smaller institutions,” said Justice Corrigan. “I was lucky to be enrolled at a school that truly wanted to help students succeed.”
At Holy Names, the Justice focused her studies on liberal arts – she majored in Psychology and Sociology, with a double minor in History and Philosophy. This was also the early days of the university’s humanities program, and students studied philosophy, history, and literature concurrently and in conjunction with one another.
The comprehensive program sparked her interest in social sciences and a more intensive psychology program, but it was the law that ultimately attracted her attention.
Justice Corrigan attended the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, where she received her J.D. in 1975, and was admitted to the California State Bar the same year.
She worked as a prosecutor; a senior prosecutor; a Superior Court Judge; and a Justice in the California Court of Appeal. Her reputation for legal acumen was a key factor in her nomination to the California Supreme Court in 2006.
Her love of the law has much to do with the fact that it touches every aspect of the human experience. If something affects people, the law is involved, and the court needs to be on the cutting edge as laws evolve to ensure they consistently meet the needs of the populace.
“The law doesn’t belong to lawyers and judges, it belongs to all of us,” she said. “The law is just a set of rules that we use to run our civic life. We don’t know anything about it except what we say about it in words. As judges who write the law, our rigor in analyzing and explaining it in words is critically important.”
Justice Corrigan has come full circle from her early desire to be a teacher, and sees all lawyers and judges as educators.
She credits a great deal of her success to the tools and education she received at Holy Names, and believes the impact of higher education cannot be overstated. She says, “If you benefit from education, you live a life of inquiry. In a democracy, the system doesn’t work unless the citizenry can think critically and can debate. If that doesn’t happen, the whole society flounders. Five thousand years ago, everything was certain and nothing changed; now it’s the opposite. Education allows people to be constantly excited about the next new thing. If you don’t develop the skills to evolve your thinking, you’re going to be lost.”
Justice Corrigan has continued her relationship with Holy Names, serving as a Trustee for the university. Her loyalty and appreciation to the school is the driving force behind her involvement, and she believes she would not have achieved all she has without her education experience. She also has high praise for the ongoing mission of HNU to serve the underserved and provide everyone with the chance to learn.
Believing in the importance of higher education and personally benefitting from her own experience, Justice Corrigan is a supporter of Cal Grants and other student financial aid programs that encourage and make education opportunities possible.
“They [financial programs] are crucial,” she said. “We need an educated populace; it’s essential in order for individuals to succeed in our society and for our society to succeed. People who are motivated and excited about learning should not have that opportunity foreclosed due to economics.”