Stanford law Professor Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar is Gov. Jerry Brown’s state Supreme Court nominee. (Photo: Courtesy Governor’s Office)

Bob Egelko
Updated 10:55 pm, Tuesday, July 22, 2014

As a boy, Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar walked 7 miles each way from his home in Mexico to a school in Texas. On Tuesday, Cuéllar, a Harvard graduate and Stanford law professor, was nominated by Gov. Jerry Brown to the California Supreme Court.

If confirmed, he will be the court’s first Latino justice since 2011 and its first Latino immigrant.

Cuéllar’s appointment is “a statement to the rest of the nation as we go through this backlash against immigrants,” said Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles.

The state Senate’s leader, President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, called the nomination “an inspired choice … a timely reminder that our Golden State was forged by disparate immigrant communities who pushed frontiers and who, together, recognized a common strength in diversity.”
Stellar credentials

Cuéllar, 41, gained stellar credentials – degrees from Harvard, Yale and Stanford, service in two presidential administrations and a law professorship – from an unlikely and modest background.

Born in the northern Mexico town of Matamoros, the child, known as Tino, walked through the border crossing each day to attend a Catholic school in Brownsville, Texas, said his father, Alfredo Cuéllar, who had attended the same school.

“We were an average family, not rich, not very poor … but we were very fortunate to have a passion for education,” he said. “Tino picked up that culture of education and books and historical issues, legal issues.”

When Tino was 14, his father got his immigration papers and took his family to Calexico (Imperial County), where he had a job teaching Spanish. The father later became a visiting professor at Harvard and recently retired as an associate professor of education at Fresno State University.

His son, meanwhile, studied as an undergraduate at Harvard before attending Yale Law School. He obtained a doctorate in political science at Stanford.

Brown nominated Cuéllar to succeed Marvin Baxter, the court’s most conservative justice, who is retiring at the end of his current 12-year term in January. With another vacancy to fill after Justice Joyce Kennard’s retirement in April, the Democratic governor has a chance to shift the ideological balance on a court that has been controlled by Republican appointees since 1987.

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