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Mexican-born professor eyed for state high court
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SACRAMENTO (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown nominated a Mexican-born Stanford law professor on Tuesday to the California Supreme Court, continuing a trend to diversify and shift one of the most influential courts in the country to the left.

Brown nominated Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, 41, to be an associate justice of the state’s highest court. If approved, the registered Democrat would fill a vacancy created by the retirement in January of conservative Justice Marvin Baxter.

“Tino Cuellar is a renowned scholar who has served two presidents and made significant contributions to both political science and the law,” Brown said in a statement. “His vast knowledge and even temperament will — without question — add further luster to our highest court.”

It’s Brown’s second nomination since returning to the governor’s office. In 2011, he filled a vacancy by appointing University of California, Berkeley, law professor Goodwin Liu to the California Supreme Court after Senate Republicans blocked his nomination to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Democratic governor will have a third opening to fill on the seven-member court when Justice Joyce Kennard retires in April, and he will have more opportunities if he is re-elected to another four-year term in November. That could bring an end to a moderate Republican court dominated by appointees of governors George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson.

Gerald Uelmen, a Santa Clara University law school professor who studies the state Supreme Court, said Brown’s second nomination of an academic is a departure from appellate court promotions and means the high court could be more willing to take a fresh look at issues.

“We see the formation of a potential new majority on the court,” Uelman said.

Cuellar was born in Matamoros, Mexico, and walked across the border to attend school in Brownsville, Texas, according to the governor’s office. 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 California Latino Legislative Caucus applauded Brown’s nomination, saying Cuellar will serve the public well given his extensive legal resume while adding to the diversity of the high court.

“Indeed, he will bring a critical perspective, reliable judgment and even temperament to one of the most vital and challenging positions of service,” Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, said in a joint statement.

Cuellar is married to U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh of the Northern District of California. They have two children.

The high court position pays $225,342 a year.

The nomination will be submitted to the state bar’s commission on judicial nominees and confirmed by a commission on judicial appointments. If confirmed, Cuellar will appear on the November ballot for voter approval.