California Supreme Court Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuellar announced on Thursday that he will be leaving next month following Governor Gavin Newsom’s recall election victory earlier this month.
Due to leave on October 31st, Cuellar announced that he will become president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace international affairs think tank in Washington, D.C.
Cuellar was born in Matamoros, Mexico in 1972. His family immigrated into the U.S. early in his life, with Cuellar becoming a naturalized citizen while in Calexico, California. Following graduating with a Baccalaureate from Harvard University in 1993, A law degree from Yale in 1997, and a Doctorate from Stanford in 2000, as well as short stints working for U.S. Senators and for the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, Cuellar began clerking for Appellate Court Judge Mary Schroeder. In 2001, Cuellar then joined the faculty of Stanford University, where he worked for the next 14 years, minus a few short stints working for the Obama administration in Washington.
In 2015, then-Governor Jerry Brown elevated him to the State Supreme Court, replacing outgoing Justice Martin Baxter. Seen as an unusual choice due to his purely academic background, Cuellar nonetheless received high recommendation remarks from nomination committees. For the last 6 years, he has been among the more liberal judges on the Supreme Court and has been seen as something of a reliable vote for lefter-leaning judicial interpretations.
“I have been fortunate to serve the people of California for nearly seven years on our highest court, a distinction I could not have imagined when I first arrived here as a high school student in the Imperial Valley,” said Justice Cuellar in a statement on Thursday. “The court has tried to provide impartial justice in a vast and diverse state while safeguarding freedom, democracy, and the rule of law. I plan to apply some of the insights rooted in my experience in California as it endeavors to address our most pressing global challenges to the Carnegie Endowment.”
Governor Newsom also gave a statement of his own on Thursday, thanking the Justice for his time as well as outlining who he may be picking in the next few months.
“I’ll be looking forward to considering several highly qualified candidates in the coming months,” noted Governor Newsom in a statement thanking Cuellar for his service. “I’ll be drawing from a broad, experienced pool of candidates that reflects all aspects of the state’s diversity – a core tenet the administration works to advance at all levels of state government.”
Cuellar leaving the Court for a think tank
Experts note that, despite the Endowment search for a new President likely having been in the works for several months, the timing of the Justice’s announcement shortly after the Governor’s recall victory on Tuesday was likely not a coincidence.
“Cuellar was waiting on seeing who was going to win in the recall,” said San Francisco lawyer Judith Bledsoe to the Globe on Friday. “If Elder had won, he would have picked someone more right-leaning, and Cuellar, who is very liberal, would not have stood for that.”
“Newsom will likely be picking another Latino to replace him, that or another left-leaning judge in California. So with the court now ‘safe,’ Cuellar found a way out. It always seemed like he didn’t want to be on the court and had preferred academia. You see this with a lot of law professors who make a foray into courts, get elected or appointed as a judge and shortly afterwards realize that it was nothing like they expected. Six years was on the longer side of a decision like that, but his term wasn’t ending until 2027 either, so it wasn’t like he was always planning to stay through it all. Just another judge who got selected in directly from a University who couldn’t hack it and wanted to get back into the more comfortable world.”
Governor is expected to start reviewing possible candidates soon. It will be his second appointment to the California Supreme Court following the appointment of Justice Martin Jenkins last year.
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