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California governor nominates first Latina as state's Supreme Court chief justice

Patricia Guerrero, who is Mexican American, will be leading the state's sprawling court system, which includes about 2,175 judges across 58 trial courts.
Patricia Guerrero
Justice Patricia Guerrero smiles after being confirmed to the Supreme Court of California on Mar. 22, 2022 in San Francisco.Eric Risberg / Pool/AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday nominated Patricia Guerrero to be the state’s next chief justice, picking the daughter of Mexican immigrants to lead the nation’s largest judicial system.

Guerrero, 50, would replace Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who will step down once her term ends in January.

Guerrero made history earlier this year when she was the first Latina confirmed to the California Supreme Court. Now she’s poised to do it again as the first Latina to lead the state’s sprawling court system that includes about 2,175 judges across 58 trial courts and 105 justices on the Courts of Appeal.

“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,” Newsom said in a news release announcing Guerrero’s nomination.

Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, California judges are not confirmed by the Legislature and do not get lifetime appointments. Guerrero must first be confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments, consisting of the chief justice, state Attorney General Rob Bonta, and Manuel Ramirez, the senior presiding justice of the state Court of Appeal.

After that, voters will decide in November whether to give Guerrero a 12-year term.

Guerrero’s background makes her qualified as the judicial branch’s chief executive, said David Ettinger, an appellate lawyer who writes a blog about the California Supreme Court. Guerrero has been a judge at all three levels of California’s judicial system, and before that was a partner at Lantham & Watkins, one of the largest law firms in the world.

“It’s important to remember that the chief justice is called the ‘chief justice of California,’ not the ‘chief justice of the Supreme Court,’” Ettinger said. “She leads not just the court, but the entire judicial branch.”

Since taking office in 2019, Newsom has made diversity a priority with his judicial appointments. In 2020, he nominated Martin Jenkins as the first openly gay man and only the third Black man to serve on the state Supreme Court. Earlier this year, he nominated Guerrero as the court’s first Latina member.

And on Wednesday, Newsom said he planned to nominate another LGBT member to the Supreme Court: Alameda Superior Court Judge Kelli Evans, who would take Guerrero’s spot once she is elevated to chief justice.

A graduate of Stanford Law School, Guerrero was a superior court judge in San Diego County from 2013 to 2017. She joined the fourth District Court of Appeal in 2017 before being confirmed to the state Supreme Court in March.

Guerrero is a registered Democrat and will be paid a salary of $293,286. She grew up in the Imperial Valley, raised by her parents who immigrated from Mexico.

“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,” Guerrero said in a news release.

Evans, 53, is from Oakland and grew up in public housing. She attended Stanford University and got a law degree from the University of California, Davis School of Law. She was chief deputy legal affairs secretary for Newsom, where she helped him shape a moratorium on capital punishment that Newsom issued in 2019.

In a news release, Evans said she was “truly honored” at the opportunity to be on the state Supreme Court.

“If confirmed, I look forward to furthering our state’s work to ensure equal justice under the law for all Californians,” Evans said.

Evans is a registered Democrat and would make $279,677.

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