When former California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno retired in February, it left the seven-member court with no Latino justices. The expectation, certainly within the Latino community, was that Gov. Jerry Brown would select another Latino to replace Moreno, preserving some ethnic diversity on the court.
But Brown announced today the bold choice of law professor Goodwin Liu as his pick for the court. Liu is widely respected among legal scholars, but had become the subject of political controversy after Republican senators blocked his appointment to the U.S. Court Appeals this spring, forcing President Barack Obama to withdraw his nomination.
Criticism from Latinos, however, is likely to be muted because of the timing of Brown's announcement -- it comes less than 24 hours after he signed Dream Act legislation that will allow undocumented students who graduated from California high schools to compete for privately funded scholarships to attend state universities. The Dream Act bill was a high priority in the Latino community, and by signing it on Monday, Brown may have created enough good will to deflect any criticism for on Tuesday deciding to leave the state's high court with no Latino presence.
(UPDATE: About 2 this afternoon, Latino Legislative Caucus Chairman Tony Mendoza issued this statement on the Liu appointment:
"I congratulate Goodwin Liu on his recent nomination by Governor Jerry Brown to replace Associate Justice Carlos Moreno, the only Latino Justice on the California Supreme Court. Professor Liu's credentials are exceptional and I, along with my fellow members of the California Latino Legislative Caucus, am looking forward to getting to know him.
"Unfortunately, with this appointment Governor Brown has missed an opportunity to designate a candidate to the Supreme Court who would better reflect the diversity of California.
"The Latino Legislative Caucus has been working closely with the Governor's office submitting various recommendations of highly qualified Latino candidates to state boards, commissions, and judicial posts and will continue working with Governor Brown on future appointments and on issues of great importance to our community.")
If Brown gets another Supreme Court pick during his term, however, the pressure to select a Latino will now intensify. Two of the current six justices have now been on the court for more than 20 years.