California Supreme Court Justice: Who Is Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar

Pending approval of voters and a judicial commission, Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar will be the next associate justice on the California Supreme Court.

Governor Jerry Brown nominated the 41-year-old Stanford law professor to replace Justice Marvin Baxter, who is retiring at the end of the year. Baxter is arguably the most conservative member of the court. Brown will also be filling the seat of Justice Joyce Kennard, who retired in April.    

Cuéllar was born in Mexico and as a child crossed the border daily from Matamoros to Brownsville, Texas, where he attended a Catholic school. It was a 7-mile trek. His family obtained permanent U.S. resident visas and moved to Calexico in the Imperial Valley when he was 14. Cuéllar’s father taught Spanish and eventually became a visiting professor at Harvard, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. He recently retired as an associate professor of education at Fresno State University.

Cuéllar received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard College in 1993, an M.A. in political science from Stanford in 1996 and a Juris Doctor degree from Yale Law School in 1997. Cuéllar interrupted his pursuit of a Ph.D. in political science from Stanford to join the Clinton administration as a senior adviser to the undersecretary for enforcement at the U.S. Treasury Department from 1997 to 1999. He finished the Ph.D. in 2000.

After completing his studies, Cuéllar clerked for Justice Mary Schroeder at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit from 2000 to 2001. He left the judicial system for academia in 2001, becoming a law professor at Stanford. He specializes in administrative and immigration law, but has taught a broad range of courses, including international and criminal law.

Cuéllar, a registered Democrat, took a leave from Stanford to work in the Obama administration from 2009-2010. He was the President’s special assistant for justice and regulatory policy on the White House Domestic Policy Council, where he worked on enhancing food safety standards, improving public health agencies, law enforcement and sentencing policy, regulatory transparency, immigration, and the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review.

Cuéllar returned to Stanford in 2010, and from 2011 to 2013, he co-chaired Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation as well as the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity and Excellence Commission. He has been the director of Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies since July 2013.

Cuéllar is married to U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, an Obama appointee. They have two children.

The three-member Commission on Judicial Appointments must confirm the appointment before it appears on the November 4 ballot. The commission consists of state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, state Atttorney General Kamala Harris and Joan Dempsey Klein, the senior presiding justice of the state Court of Appeal.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Brown Names New Justice to State Supreme Court (by John Howard, Capitol Weekly)

Stanford Law School Professor Named to California Supreme Court (by Howard Mintz, San Jose Mercury News)

Jerry Brown Names Law School Professor to California Supreme Court (by David Siders, Sacramento Bee)

Brown Nominates Stanford Professor to State High Court (by Henry K. Lee, San Francisco Chronicle)

Mexico-Born Law Professor Cuellar Chosen for California Supreme Court (by Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times)

Baxter Retirement Lets Governor Brown Pick a Third Supreme Court Justice (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Bio of Court Nominee Mariano-Florentino Cuellar (Associated Press)

Biography (Stanford Law School)

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