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Patricia Guerrero would be the first Latina chief justice in California's history.
Patricia Guerrero would be the first Latina chief justice in California's history. Photo: Eric Risberg/Pool via AP Photo

Newsom nominates Judge Patricia Guerrero as first Latina Chief Justice of California’s Supreme Court

After becoming the first Latina to be confirmed into the state’s Supreme Court, she is now the first Latina to lead its court system.

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On Wednesday, Aug. 10, California Governor Gavin Newsom nominated Judge Patricia Guerrero to be the next chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court. If confirmed, she would replace current Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who will step down after her term ends this upcoming January. 

The daughter of Mexican immigrants, if confirmed, she would be the first Latina chief justice in California history, and oversee the entire state court system. She already made history earlier this year, after being confirmed to the California Supreme Court, becoming the first Latina to sit on the judicial body. 

The new position would mean leading it, and the state’s court system, which according to the Associated Press, includes 2,175 judges across 58 trial courts and 105 justices on the Courts of Appeals. Guerrero will have to be confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments. That is composed of the chief justice, senior presiding justice of the state Court of Appeals Manuel Ramirez, and state Attorney General Rob Bonta. 

Different from the U.S. Supreme Court, state judges do not get lifetime appointments nor are they confirmed by the legislature. In November, voters will decide whether or not she gets a 12-year appointment. 

Newsom released a statement along with his nomination announcement. 

“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,” the governor said. 

Guerrero’s resume backs up her qualifications for the position. She is a graduate of Stanford Law School. Prior to being a judge, she worked as a partner for one of the biggest law firms in the country, Lantham & Watkins. The 50-year old has been a judge at all three levels of the state’s judicial system. 

David Ettinger, an appellate lawyer who writes a blog about California’s Supreme Court spoke about the importance of Guerrero’s pending new title. 

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

Guerrero was also a superior court judge from 2013 to 2017 in San Diego County and then joined the fourth District Court of Appeals. She was confirmed to the state Supreme Court in March. 

Newsom has been very diverse with his judicial appointments since becoming governor back in 2019. He started first by appointing the first gay man and only third Black man to serve on the state Supreme Court, Martin Jenkins. In addition to Guerrero, Newsom plans to appoint Alameda Superior Court Judge Kelli Evans, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, to take Guerrero’s spot on the state Supreme Court once she’s confirmed. 

“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,” said Guerrero in a statement. 

Raised in the Imperial Valley’s of Southern California to Mexican immigrants, this would be a huge win for the Latinx community to have Latinx representation in the state’s highest judicial position. A registered Democrat, Guerrero’s salary would be $293,286 a year. 

When nominated as a supreme court justice earlier this year, she said she could have “never dreamed” of the position she was in considering the barriers that face Latinx community members, especially those with immigrant backgrounds. Now, those dreams continue with the new nomination.

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