California Supreme Court Justice Nominee Gets Glowing Comments From Judges
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The Commission on Judicial Appointments voted unanimously Thursday to confirm law professor Mariano-Florentino "Tino" Cuellar, as the newest California Supreme Court Justice.
Governor Jerry Brown's nominee faced no opposition at a hearing chaired by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Attorney General Kamala Harris and Senior Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein of the second appellate district.
The commission members had few questions for the Stanford law and political science professor. Cantil-Sakauye asked about his favorite area of the law.
"I'm curious if you have any particularly favorite area. I know you're an expert in many areas and you've taught many of these areas, but I'm curious, as I am of every member of our bench, what particular interest you have."
Cuellar replied that he finds administrative law "pretty exciting." He said: "There's nothing quite like walking into a room full of law students, who feel like they've been condemned because they have to take administrative law, and lighting up their passion for the subject and helping them understand that notwithstanding the rather plodding name, this is a subject of who has responsibility and power in our democracy."
Harris broached the inevitable question of the one item missing from Cuellar's resume.
"You have had a remarkable range of legal and policy experiences," Harris said, citing his work as law professor, policy adviser, law clerk, advisor for President Barack Obama, and the array of legal and policy issues in which he holds expertise, from money laundering, firearms enforcement, border security and drug policy, to the environment and education.
"It appears the only thing you've not done is serve on a bench," Harris said, to laughter from the audience. "Please discuss how undoubtedly your vast experience will be an asset to this court."
"I have been deeply aware in my experience in the law how special the role of the courts are," Cuellar said. "I have the hope that it can benefit from someone who has the experience of taking a statute and trying to implement it. Trying to understand how it's going to work on the ground, how are the people who are going to have to live with the statue in the private sector and the government going to make sense of it.
"The best architects think not only about the present but the future, and they have to struggle with understanding how to meet an existing need but also how to deal with the constraints that might arise in the future that might not be entirely anticipated."
Justice Klein said she didn't have any questions except, "Where have you been all these years that Governor Brown has been looking?"
Cuellar was born in Matamoros, Mexico, and walked across the border every day to attend school in Brownsville, Texas before his family moved to the Imperial Valley when he was 14.
Cuellar earned his bachelor's degree from Harvard, a law degree from Yale Law School and a doctorate in political science from Stanford University.
He became a U.S. citizen in 1994, and has two children with his wife, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh.
"Trial court deference is a way of life in our family," he joked.
Several witnesses spoke about Cuellar in glowing terms, including Jeffrey L. Bleich, former U.S. Ambassador to Australia and former Special Counsel to President Obama in the White House.
"Tino resists bias in all of its forms. The jurists and litigants whose decisions and positions he'll review can depend on him to be fair. And lower courts can depend on him to respect the limits of his role, and to be deferential," Bleich said. "In fact, with his wife Lucy serving on the trial bench, I am confident that he will not forget the important of deference to trial courts."
Cuellar was co-chair of President Barack Obama's immigration policy working group from 2008-2009, and co-chaired a congressional commission on America's public school achievement gap from 2011 to 2013. He is on the board of the Constitution Project, a bipartisan think tank that advises lawmakers on constitutional questions.
If approved by voters in November, Cuellar will replace Justice Marvin Baxter, who will not seek re-election.