SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown’s nominee to the California Supreme Court was easily confirmed Thursday after a brief hearing.
The three-member Commission on Judicial Appointments unanimously confirmed Stanford University law professor Mariano-Florentino “Tino” Cuellar to the state’s highest court. The Mexican-born legal scholar and registered Democrat will be the court’s only Latino.
Cuellar, 41, will fill a vacancy created by the retirement in January of conservative Justice Marvin Baxter. His name will also be on the November ballot, so voters can decide whether to keep him on for a 12-year term.
Cuellar faced no opposition during the one-hour hearing in the San Francisco courtroom where he will preside.
Three witnesses testified in support of Cuellar and none against. All three discussed his professional career, which included a role as an adviser to President Barack Obama’s transition team.
Larry Kramer, president of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, said Cuellar’s work experience was “quite astoundingly broad.”
Former U.S. ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich and lawyer Danielle Gray also testified.
Cuellar said he was “humbled” and “grateful” for the appointment.
He is Brown’s second appointment to the seven-member court. The governor has yet to fill a third vacancy on a court undergoing a dramatic political shift to the left.
“I would describe the court as a middle-left one now,” said appellate specialist Curt Cutting, who has appeared before the high court many times. “Up until now, the court was more of a middle-right one.”
Cutting and other analysts warned that predicting how a legal scholar with no judicial experience like Cuellar will rule on the bench can be difficult.
“They often surprise,” Cutting said.
Further, the court is still divided between three Republican appointees and three Democratic appointees.
“The next Brown appointment will be the big one,” said Santa Clara University Gerald Uelmen. “The court is definitely shifting to the left.”
Cuellar was born in Matamoros, Mexico, and walked across the border to attend school in Brownsville, Texas. He earned his law degree from Yale Law School and a doctoral degree in political science from Stanford University. He has been a law professor at Stanford since 2001.
Cuellar served as special assistant for justice and regulatory policy in the Obama White House in 2009 and 2010 and was co-chair of the Obama transition team’s immigration policy working group in 2008 and 2009. He also served as a congressional adviser to the U.S. education secretary on how to close the achievement gap in public schools from 2011 to 2013, among other policy work.
The Commission on Judicial Nominees, a panel of lawyers who vet candidates for the bench, gave Cuellar its highest recommendation of “exceptionally well qualified.”
Cuellar is married to U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh of the Northern District of California. She attended the hearing along with the couple’s two children.
The high court position pays $225,342 a year.
The Commission on Judicial Appointments is comprised of California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, state Attorney General Kamala Harris and state appeals court Judge Joan Dempsey Klein.