California Gov. Gavin Newsom nominated Justice Patricia Guerrero to serve as the next chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court, which will make her the first Latina to fill the position.
“We’re appreciative of the governor, but it’s sad to say that we’re in the year of 2022 and we’re still talking about the first Latina in a state as populated with Latinos and Latinas as California,” Helen Torres, CEO of Hispanas Organized for Political Equality, told Latino Rebels. “But at least the governor has the wisdom to see the merits and strength of Latina leadership.”
Latinas represent nearly 20 percent of California’s population and account for the largest share of California women at 39 percent, yet they remain the most underrepresented in executive branch appointments. Latinas make up 8.5 percent of all executive appointments in California and 19 percent of all women executive appointments, making them the second-largest share of appointed women in the executive branch, according to a recent report by the University of California, Los Angeles.
The report found that non-Hispanic white women are overrepresented while Latinas are underrepresented. Non-Latina white women represent about 18 percent of the state’s population and about 19 percent of all executive appointments, but nearly 43 percent of all women appointments, according to the report.
Newsom nominated Alameda County Superior Court Judge Kelli Evans to fill the associate justice position that will be left open by Guerrero. Evans, who is Black, will make history too as the first openly lesbian woman to serve on the court.
“We, too, salute Justice Guerrero and acknowledge her achievements and abilities. However, California LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) is very disappointed that the governor is not filling the position she is vacating with an equally capable Latino, given the disparity on the court in reflecting our state’s diversity,” California LULAC state director José Barrera said in a statement. “This body comprises the state’s highest court at a time when our numbers deserve an equal presence and voice. Governor Newsom’s actions deny us that earned equality. Also, this judicial imbalance reminds us that Latinos continue to be viewed as a necessary political force with which to contend, but not yet, one to be respected, much less feared by career politicians.”
Guerrero, 50, is a first-generation Californian from the Imperial Valley. Considered by legal experts to be a moderate who leans slightly to the left, she first made history when Newsom appointed her as an associate justice to the court in February, making her the first Latina to sit 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,” Gov. Newsom said in a statement. “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.”
In her own statement, Guerrero said she was “humbled” by the nomination.
“Yes, we’re still celebrating the first but when they become the first, the impact they’re making in communities is incredible,” Torres said.
Guerrero, a Democrat who was raised by Mexican immigrant parents, worked her way up to California’s Supreme Court from the state’s 4th District Court of Appeal, where she served as an associate justice. She studied at UC Berkeley and Stanford Law School and served as a judge at the San Diego County Superior Court.
“Justice Guerrero’s inspiring nomination demonstrates that, regardless of humble beginnings, hard work and commitment to one’s values can lead to the fulfillment of the true American dream,” retired California Supreme Court Justice Carlos R. Moreno said.
Chantal Vaca is a summer correspondent for Futuro Media based in New York City and a graduate of the Columbia University School of Journalism. Twitter: @VacaChantal