Three years after California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno ’70 decided to leave his position as a federal district court judge for a seat on his state’s Supreme Court, some students at a Pierson College Master’s Tea Friday afternoon and a Law School lecture Saturday morning asked him about what they said seemed to be a surprising career move.
But to Moreno, accepting former California Governor Gray Davis’ appointment meant assuming a greater role in shaping contemporary American law.
“The California Supreme Court is the premier state court with a tremendous legal legacy,” he said. “We’re really the ultimate word on California law and many federal laws.”
Moreno, who graduated from Stanford Law School, is only the third Latino to serve on the California Supreme Court in its history. Thirty years ago, Moreno found himself in a similarly unique position — when he came to Yale, he was one of just three Latinos in a class of 1,000 men.
The transition from a 95 percent Latino high school to a predominantly white University led to feelings of alienation, Moreno said. But by sophomore year, he said, the three Chicanos on campus had found each other and formed a group called “Los Hermanos” — “The Brothers.” Over 30 years later, the group still exists under the name MEChA, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlan, as a means of fostering support and a sense of community for Mexican-American students at Yale.
Moreno said the group worked with the administration to alter the social climate of the University, calling for more Latino faculty members and increased recruitment efforts targeted toward Latinos in the Southwest.
On Saturday morning, Moreno delivered another talk at the Law School entitled, “Diversity on the Bench: Achieving Justice.” The lecture focused on his 18 years of experience as a judge.
First, Moreno addressed the role of diversity in juries.
“In criminal cases, there is a need for unanimity,” Moreno said. “In diversity, there is unanimity. If there’s a good mix [in the jury], there are different life experiences and points of view and better conversation; there’s a better chance at justice.”
But diversity involves more than just ethnicity and race, Moreno said. While he is the sole Democrat sharing the bench with six Republicans, Moreno said the Court — which is comprised of three women and four men — is both geographically and experientially diverse, reflecting the insights of academics, transactional and appellate attorneys, and former trial judges like himself.
Moreno said the range of experience has resulted in his colleagues’ moderate stances on many issues, which he said is an exhilarating prospect for him in light of the landmark cases the Court is slated to hear in the coming years.
“One vote can really determine the outcome of a case,” he said. “Having that influence is very gratifying.”
Teresa Tapia ’06, who attended the Saturday morning talk, said Moreno was an insightful speaker.
“Learning about his experiences at Yale and the process of him getting to where he is now is inspirational to me as a student of color,” she said.
Latino Law Student Association co-chairman Tico Almeida LAW ’04 said bringing individuals like Moreno to Yale is important.
“Since Yale Law School has never in its history had a tenured Latino law professor, we think it’s really important to bring excellent legal minds like Justice Moreno to the Law School,” he said. “His visit was an inspiration.”
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