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Newsom chooses Justice Patricia Guerrero for California Supreme Court

Guerrero's appointment comes as President Joe Biden considers California Justice Leondra Kruger to fill a vacant seat on the nation's highest court.

(CN) — Extolling her keen legal mind, experience and integrity, Governor Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday that he will nominate Fourth Appellate District Justice Patricia Guerrero to replace departing Associate Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar on the state Supreme Court.

The daughter of immigrants from Mexico, Guerrero, 50, grew up in the Imperial Valley and worked to put herself through the University of California, Berkeley. She earned her juris doctorate at Stanford Law School in 1997.

She started her law career as an associate at Latham and Watkins LLP in 2003, becoming a partner in 2007. Governor Jerry Brown appointed Guerrero to the San Diego Superior Court bench in 2013 and to the Fourth Appellate District in 2017.

If confirmed, Guerrero will become the first Latina to serve on the state’s highest court. She would replace Cuéllar, who stepped down last year to head the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank in Washington.

Justice Patricia Guerrero will likely become the first Latina on the bench of the California Supreme Court. (Photo courtesy Fourth Appellate District)

“I am deeply honored by this incredible opportunity to uphold the rule of law and make a positive impact on the lives of Californians across the state,” Guerrero said in a statement. “If confirmed, I look forward to helping instill confidence in the equality and integrity of our judicial system while honoring the sacrifices of my immigrant parents and demonstrating to young people that anything is possible in our wonderful and diverse country.”

While at Stanford, Guerrero was an active member of the Latino Law Students Association and helped recruit fellow students to the group.

In an email to Courthouse News, Stanford Latinx Law Students Association co-president Vanessa Young Viniegra praised Guerrero's historic nomination.

"As Latina law students, we were thrilled to learn about Justice Guerrero’s historic nomination to the California Supreme Court­. We feel especially proud knowing she is an SLS [Stanford Law Students] and SLLSA alum," she said. "Having a court that reflects the diversity of our state matters, not only because it enables us to imagine ourselves as future leaders, but also because we know the law disproportionately impacts Latinx Californians. While the experiences of Latinx people are diverse, we hope that Justice Guerrero’s background will bring a valuable, necessary perspective to our state’s highest court and help ensure the Court provides the dignity, respect, and care all Californians deserve."

Guerrero wrote a wide range of opinions during her tenure on the state appellate court, including Bolger v. Amazon which found Amazon can be held liable in California when customers are hurt by defective products sold by third parties on its website.

She also wrote the majority opinion in Midway Venture LLC v. County of San Diego, overturning a trial judge’s order that restaurants in San Diego County could reopen. Guerrero wrote that Judge Joel Wohlfeil went too far in lifting Covid-19 restrictions for restaurants countywide in a lawsuit brought by two strip clubs challenging state and county rules that limited live entertainment.

“A reasonable person would not understand that restaurant restrictions would be at issue in these proceedings," she wrote. "In sum, the trial court erred by entering an overbroad injunction that was unsupported by the law and which violated the due process rights of the state and county.”

Guerrero also penned the order in In re Ontiveros, which held that a violent felon was not eligible for early parole consideration under Proposition 57 simply because he had served his full term for a separate, “primary” nonviolent offense.

“A policy that rewards inmates for additional convictions is plainly unreasonable,” she wrote.

Guerreo added that a literal interpretation of Proposition 57 that grants early parole hearings to violent offenders with nonviolent primary offenses “would lead to an absurd result the voters did not intend.”

She wrote, "Our society abhors crime and seeks to deter and punish it. We do not reward it.”

In a statement, Newsom touted his pick as a "phenomenal candidate” for the court. “A keen legal mind and well-regarded jurist, Justice Guerrero’s wide-ranging experience, integrity, deep respect for the rule of law and lifelong commitment to public service make her a phenomenal candidate to serve as our next California Supreme Court Justice,” Newsom said.

Fourth Appellate District Administrative Presiding Justice Judith McConnell said Guerrero would be an asset to the bench.

“There is no question that Justice Guerrero’s impressive analytical skills, work ethic and dedication to public service will be an immense asset to the California Supreme Court,” McConnell said in a statement. “Having surmounted humble beginnings in the Imperial Valley and obstacles throughout her illustrious career, Justice Guerrero is uniquely positioned to protect the equality and integrity of our judicial system. I’m confident that as our next California Supreme Court Justice, she’ll continue to serve the people of California with deep dedication and humility.”

Newsom’s choice comes as the court faces another possible vacancy: Justice Leondra Kruger is being considered to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court seat that will be left when Justice Stephen Breyer retires at the end of the term.

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