California Supreme Court judge steps down to lead think tank


A California Supreme Court judge said Thursday he would leave after next month to lead an international think tank, giving Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom his second High Court appointment.

Judge Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar will become the new president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace after leaving court on October 31.

Newsom “looks forward to reviewing several highly qualified candidates” in the coming months, his office said in a statement thanking and congratulating Cuéllar.

The governor will draw on “a large pool of experienced candidates that reflects all aspects of the state’s diversity – a fundamental principle that the administration strives to advance at all levels of state government.” .

The announcement comes days after nearly two-thirds of voters kept Newsom in power by rejecting a midterm recall election.

“I think it probably took most people by surprise that (Cuéllar) was leaving court, and for a think tank,” said David Ettinger, an appeals lawyer who writes a blog on the California Supreme Court. titled At the Lectern. “Maybe it’s because of his university education that he thinks he can make a bigger difference that way than as a member of the tribunal.

Ettinger expects Newsom to name “a Latinx judge, someone who is both Latinx and currently sitting judge (court of appeal),” although no one in particular jumps to the fore.

Ettinger doesn’t think the timing of the announcement was a coincidence.

“He probably wouldn’t want Governor Elder to name his successor to the court,” Ettinger said, referring to Tory talk show host Larry Elder, who allegedly replaced Newsom. “That’s my guess. He wouldn’t have left court if the recall had been successful.

Cuéllar did not say if the recall played a role in his decision or the timing of his announcement, although his move has been in the works for some time.

Cuéllar was appointed by former Governor Jerry Brown in 2014 and took the bench in January 2015 after serving in the administration of former President Barack Obama.

The court is dominated by Democratic governor candidates, although many of its decisions are unanimous. Two of the seven were appointed by former GOP Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, including Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. Four were nominated by Brown and one by Newsom, both Democrats.

Anyone appointed by Newsom will appear before the Judicial Appointments Commission for confirmation.

Cuéllar was born in northern Mexico before moving to the United States at the age of 14 and becoming a naturalized US citizen at the age of 21. Carnegie board chair Penny Pritzker called it a “quintessentially American immigrant story.”

He sits on a diverse tribunal that recently saw Newsom appoint the first openly gay black man to the state Supreme Court with the appointment of Martin Jenkins last year.

“I was fortunate enough to serve the people of California for almost seven years in our highest court – a distinction I could not have imagined when I first arrived here as a student of the secondary in the Imperial Valley, ”Cuéllar said in a statement.

Cuéllar said the tribunal attempted to provide “impartial justice in a large and diverse state” while protecting “freedom, democracy and the rule of law.”

The Carnegie Endowment, he said, “has worked on closely related challenges on a global scale” and plans to “apply some of the ideas rooted in my experience in California as it strives to tackle our most pressing global challenges “.

In the Obama administration, he led the efforts of the White House Home Policy Council on Civil and Criminal Justice, Public Health, Immigration, and the End of Military Policy Don’t Ask / Don’t Tell . He also led the Presidential Transition Task Force on Immigration and co-chaired the US Department of Education’s Commission for Equity and Excellence, according to his official biography.

Cuéllar will be Carnegie’s 10th president in 111 years of history.

“He’s very smart, thoughtful, committed, but these descriptions can apply to many judges,” Ettinger said. “He’s a little more willing than some of the others to be outspoken.”

He joined Judge Goodwin Liu in several statements dealing with police violence against blacks, what they called a dysfunctional death penalty system, and the right to education.

“I guess he will be missed in court,” Ettinger added. “He seems to me to be a very collegial colleague… and a hard worker, pulling his part.”

Cuéllar is a graduate of Harvard University, Yale Law School and Stanford University and is married to Judge Lucy Koh of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.


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