Credit: Courtesy, State of California

Patricia Guerrero would make history as the first Latina/o/x chief justice on California’s highest court. 

She was appointed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom as the first Latina to become a California Supreme Court Justice and he nominated her to chief justice this month.

This is a welcome appointment by the governor and a historic one even noted by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

“Your appointment is a testimony to not only your extraordinary judicial career, but also to your devotion and commitment to the citizens of California and their access to justice,” wrote Sotomayor in a letter to Justice Guerrero. “Your appointment is an important reminder of how far we have come and of how far we have yet to go. I know you will make our country proud. You already have.”

We need more diversity in the judiciary. More than 62% of all trial court judges are white, and so are more than 70% of appellate court judges. Latinos make up just 12% of trial court judges and 7% of judges in the appellate court. 

Despite the important Guerrero nomination, Latinos in California are still underrepresented in appointments across the state’s executive branch.

Researchers at UCLA’s Latino Policy & Politics Institute released a report this month that analyzed the 482 appointees across California’s executive branch, including those on the state’s governing boards, commissions and departments.

The report found that Latinos make up 18% of appointees from the governor and legislative leaders even though Latinos are 39% of the state population. Whites are over-represented at 36% of the state population but 48% of all appointees.

Latinos hold 10% of appointed positions on criminal justice boards and commissions, while making up over 40% of the jail and prison population in California. And they are 14% of the positions that regulate the environment.

The UCLA report also found Latinos tend to be more recent appointments, with 71% of Latino appointees coming in the last four years.

This is a sign that Newsom is working to diversify appointments but still more needs to be done to reach parity.

That is why it is important to pass Senate Bill 1387. The bill would require the Governor’s office to convene a working group to make recommendations on the most effective way to ensure California’s diversity is reflected in the state’s leadership on boards and commission and requires the Governor’s office to annually create and post a report on demographic information related to gubernatorial appointments and applications.

This bill is nearly identical to last year’s SB 702, which was vetoed by Newsom.

His veto statement read, “I too am deeply committed to making appointments that reflect California’s diversity at every level of government. My office already makes an intentional, transparent effort to engage with the Legislature, community partners, nonprofits, and a variety of stakeholders to build a diverse qualified pool of candidates for appointed positions, and will continue to strengthen and build these partnerships. Further, the demographic information specified for reporting under this bill is optional and self-reported.”

Newsom wrote for these reasons such a report required by SB 702 would not accurately reflect the diversity of appointees.

Still, Newsom should support the new bill. The UCLA report shows there is more work to be done in diversifying appointees and there must be a mechanism to hold the governor accountable.