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Justice Patricia Guerrero confirmed as California’s next chief justice

Guerrero sailed through her confirmation hearing Friday by a 3-0 vote to become the first Latina to head the California Supreme Court.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — By a unanimous 3-0 vote, Justice Patricia Guerrero was confirmed Friday to take her place as the next chief justice of the California Supreme Court.

The hearing saluted Guerrero's achievements while paying tribute to her predecessor, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.

“I’m honored to be living in a state where a little girl grew up in the Imperial Valley raised by immigrant parents from Mexico could grow up, follow her dreams and become the first Latina associate justice on the California Supreme Court,” Guerrero said. “And there has never been a Latino or a Latina to serve as chief justice until now. I am proud to be the first. And I look forward to the second, the third and the fourth.”

The sacrifices of family and the historic weight of Guerrero’s ascension to the state’s highest court were prevailing themes throughout the hearing.

Fourth Appellate District Presiding Justice Manuel Ramirez, who sat on the Commission for Judicial Appointments panel, recited a favorite quotation of the late Supreme Court Justice John Arguelles, who died in April at age 94.

Ramirez said the quote could be found inscribed above the curtains of the auditorium at Garfield High School in Los Angeles and made a deep impression on Arguelles, who grew up during the Great Depression.

“I think he wanted me to share these words with you,” Ramirez said. “I ask the fathers and the mothers who love their children, who prize the freedom of American opportunity, to strike at this idea that only the rich and only the powerful, the sons and daughters of the great, can serve the state. It is true now, and I believe it will be true hereafter, that the humblest son and the humblest daughter of the humblest citizen, born in the humblest surroundings, can lift his eyes toward the star of hope.”

Ramirez said Guerrero’s story, one of a bright and hard-working daughter of immigrant parents from Mexico, will similarly inspire. “You are that star of hope,” Ramirez said. “With your background, that is you.”

Guerrero joined the high court five months ago as an associate justice, replacing the departing Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar. She previously served on the Fourth Appellate District, and before that, she was a family law judge in San Diego County Superior Court.

Guerrero started her legal career as an assistant U.S. attorney and then as an associate at Latham and Watkins, where she quickly distinguished herself as a rising star and a highly competent administrator — skills she’ll need to oversee a sprawling judicial branch with more than 2,000 trial judges in 58 county courts, six courts of appeal, and a $5 billion annual budget.

"Justice Patricia Guerrero is the right person at the right moment who can lead the judicial branch into the 21st century,” Justice Martin Jenkins said of Guerrero, who he described as humble, compassionate, and an effective leader who will continue Cantil-Sakauye’s legacy as a consensus-builder on a bench already regarded for its collegiality.

Jenkins opened his remarks with an homage to Cantil-Sakauye, who will be retiring at the end of the year. “It is as a result of your leadership that the judicial branch today is vibrant, is on sound fiscal footing, and is empowered to meet our mission to provide al Californians with equal access to our courts. By any measure you’ve more than exceeded your goals despite encountering a pandemic along the way.”

Guerrero also praised Cantil-Sakauye’s decade-plus of service on the court, saying “The judicial branch is stronger than it was before you started.”

Guerrero recalled a pivotal moment in Cantil-Sakauye’s early life that resonated with her own experience. “The chief has spoken in the past about her mom taking her to see the first Filipina attorney in her community and she elbowed her, as I understand, and told her, 'You could do that.' Boy was she right,” Guerrero said. “I hope to continue to improve the administration of justice. And in doing that, I hope like the chief, to serve in a way that would have made my mother proud, and will make my father proud. But also to serve as a role model for other children out there whose parents are also elbowing them and telling them now that they can do this too.”

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