Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, 50, of the 3rd District Court of Appeal would become the first Filipina-American to lead the state's judiciary if confirmed by a three-member commission and voters in November.
Her confirmation also would give the California Supreme Court a female majority for the first time in its history and leave the seven-member Supreme Court with just one Democrat, Justice Carlos Moreno.
"Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye has a distinguished history of public service and understands that the role of a justice is not to create law, but to independently and fairly interpret and administer the law," said Schwarzenegger in a news release.
"She is a living example of the American Dream and when she is confirmed by the voters in November, Judge Cantil-Sakauye will become California's first Filipina chief justice; adding to our High Court's already rich diversity," he said.
"It is a privilege and a tremendous honor to have the opportunity to serve as chief justice of the California Supreme Court," Cantil-Sakauye said in the statement from the governor's office. "I deeply respect the inspirational and visionary work of Chief Justice Ronald George and hope to build upon it."
Cantil-Sakauye, a Sacramento native, is a Republican who graduated from the University of California, Davis School of Law.
Gov. Pete Wilson appointed her to the appellate court in 2005 after she served 15 years as a judge in superior and municipal courts in Sacramento County.
Though she is little known outside legal circles, Cantil-Sakauye has served quietly in influential positions. For the past two years, she sat alongside the chief justice on the Judicial Council, a 28-member board that controls the judiciary's annual budget and sets policy for the courts.
Before becoming a judge at age 30 in 1990, she worked as Gov. George Deukmejian's deputy legal affairs secretary and as a deputy legislative secretary _ two powerful political posts. She was also a Sacramento County prosecutor for four years after graduating law school in 1984.
As an appellate judge, Cantil-Sakauye wrote a 2007 decision siding with nurses that prohibited school staffers from administering insulin shots to students.
She has served on several committees addressing domestic violence and was named a special master for the Commission on Judicial Performance, which investigates and disciplines judges.
According to her official biography on the California courts' website, Cantil-Sakauye is married to a Sacramento police lieutenant and has two daughters.
She is active in her Methodist church and is a Brownie and Girl Scout leader.