Governor Gavin Newsom nominated Supreme Court Associate Justice Patricia Guerrero as the next Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court on Wednesday, replacing current Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who announced last month that she would not be seeking another term.
In addition to Guerrero’s elevation, Newsom also announced that Alameda County Superior Court Judge Kelli Evans would be nominated Guerrero’s now vacant Associate Justice spot, also in January. Evans’ nomination drew much criticism.
Guerrero, a long-time favorite of Newsom, and first generation daughter of two Mexican immigrants, graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1994 and received her law degree from Stanford in 1997. Following some time working on the Immigration Justice Project advisory board and as an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California U.S. District Court, Guerrero received her first judgeship in 2013 as a judge on the San Diego District Court.
In 2017, Guerrero was elevated to the Fourth District Court of Appeals as an appellate judge. While noted as a dedicated judge, even going over briefs while in labor with her son, she also issued some controversial rulings in her time on the Appellate bench, such as a 2020 ruling that made Amazon liable for defective third-party products and put a large part of their business (60% of Amazon’s products come through third parties) in California in a bind. Despite this, Guerrero was picked by Newsom in March to replace former Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, becoming the first Latina on the Court.
“Justice Guerrero has established herself as a widely respected jurist with a formidable intellect and command of the law and deep commitment to equal justice and public service,” said Governor Newsom in a press release on Wednesday. “A first-generation Californian from the Imperial Valley, Justice Guerrero broke barriers as California’s first Latina Supreme Court Justice, enriching our state’s highest court with her insights and deep understanding of the real-world impacts of the Court’s decisions in the lives of everyday Californians. I thank Justice Guerrero for her willingness to step into this role and am confident that the people of California will continue to be well served by her leadership for years to come.”
Justice Guerrero, in turn, said, “I am humbled by this nomination to lead our state’s Supreme Court and thank the Governor for entrusting me with this honor. If confirmed, I look forward to continuing the strides the Court has made under Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye to expand equal access to justice and create a fairer justice system for all Californians.”
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Judge Evans, the first out LGBTQ woman nominated, also has a long resume prior to being selected on Wednesday. A graduate of Stanford and a law school graduate of UC Davis, Evans has served in a long string of legal stints since the mid 90’s. This has included working for the Assistant Public Defender at the Sacramento County Public Defender’s Office, two stints with the ACLU, being a senior trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, and positions with the California State Bar and the California Department of Justice, working as a special assistant to the Attorney General.
In the last few years, Evans was a Deputy Legal Affairs Secretary for Criminal Justice in the Office of Governor Gavin Newsom from 2019 to 2020, Chief Deputy Legal Affairs Secretary in the same office from 2020 to 2021, and has served on the Alameda County Superior Court as a judge since last year.
“Throughout her career, Judge Evans has dedicated herself to helping all Californians have an equal chance at justice,” continued Governor Newsom. “Raised by her grandmother in public housing, Judge Evans was inspired from a young age to find ways to help expand justice and opportunity for everyone, especially marginalized and vulnerable communities. I have seen firsthand her commitment to the highest ideals of public service, and her passion to protect and advance civil rights and liberties for all Californians. I have no doubt that her exemplary talent, wide-ranging knowledge and experience, strong moral compass, and work ethic will make her an outstanding Supreme Court Justice.”
Judge Evans also responded, saying “I am truly honored by this opportunity to serve the people of California on our state’s highest court. I have worked my entire career to promote equality and access to justice and to protect the rights of some of society’s most disenfranchised members. If confirmed, I look forward to furthering our state’s work to ensure equal justice under the law for all Californians.”
While Guerrero’s nomination was surprising to many on Wednesday, most judicial insiders noted that her long judicial experience warranted her becoming Chief Justice. However, Evans’ nomination drew much criticism, with many saying that her nomination comes with less than one year of judicial experience, Evans never staying too long at any one job, and being seen as a lackey for Newsom on the bench.
“People like Guerrero – She’s been tested on all judicial levels on the state now, and she has proved to be dedicated,” legal advisor Alicia Brooks told the Globe on Wednesday. “Even people who don’t agree with her rulings note that she is tireless and gets the job done. So no real problems with her. You don’t see that many Latina women get this far in the courts either, so this is big.”
“Evans is another story though. She has had a hodgepodge of a career. One of my former bosses called her a ‘buffet lawyer,’ just picking and choosing here and there what looks good instead of sticking with something she likes to do and use ambition to build up from there.”
“She is also disastrously inexperienced on the bench. She only became a judge last year, and only at a County Superior Court one at that. Before that she worked right under Newsom for several years. It’s not hard to connect the dots why she was chosen. It definitely wasn’t ability. She’s just been in and around that inner circle for years and her number finally came up so to speak. Now we have to see how long she stays there before she gets bored and decides to go for another job.”
If confirmed, but Guerrero and Evans would be sworn in to their new positions on January 2, 2023.
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