Contributor Sara Pollaro is one of four founders of Equal Roots Coalition,a grassroots organization dedicated to fighting for equality for all LGBT people and a member of the OUT West Coalition. Stand Out and Fight Together.
Wednesday night at the California Endowment, a packed house of Angelenos spent their evening with one of their own. The very gracious Chief Justice Moreno shared with the crowd episodes from his life, his career, and his thoughts. Henry Weinstein, moderator and founding faculty member of the Irvine School of Law, gave a sweeping and interesting biography of Justice Moreno.
The Chief Justice grew up near downtown L.A and came from modest means. In 1962, he attended the very first game ever played at Dodger Stadium and currently keeps his primary residence in Los Angeles. Although the Chief Justice has achieved high rank and success, it was very apparent that he has not forgotten where he came from.
Chief Justice Moreno made the short list of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees. When asked whether being the sole dissenter on the Proposition 8 ruling played a role in losing the nomination, he insists it did not. He received applause for this decision throughout the evening as well as several “thank yous” during the question and answer period.
Justice Moreno explained that the Court had voted in 2008 to include gay and lesbian people as a suspect class, thus providing special status and protection under the law for this group. The Prop 8 ruling made an exception to equal protection. “You cannot chip away at equal protection…If you make an exception to equal protection, then you don’t have equal protection,” he said.
When asked by activist and blogger Nakhone Keodara his thoughts about the prospect of the Federal Court Case filed against Prop 8, he responded “not good.” He went on to say that he doesn’t believe he will see a nationwide consensus for marriage equality in his lifetime. He does believe, however, there will be “legal change before societal change,” citing the nation’s feelings and treatment of interracial marriage.
Chief Justice Moreno, chose his words carefully when speaking to diversity on the bench – he jokingly said “that’s what got Sonia Sotomayor in trouble” – expressed the importance of a multiplicity of views. He shared, “Diversity across the lines of gender and ethnicity help people buy into the justice system” and also noted, “Judges are expected to add a human element.”
Justice Moreno also commented on the fractured death penalty system in California. He cited a report that estimates the system costs California $100M per year and absorbs 25% of the California Judicial system’s workload. The system is also not operated or funded properly. With 680 inmates on death row, California has one of the most inmates on death row in the country. The number one cause of death for inmates on death row is “old age, then suicide, only to be followed by execution. . . from judgment to execution, we are looking at an excess of 20 years.”
Having adopted a severely developmentally disabled daughter, Justice Moreno is a champion advocate of foster care youth and sits as the Chair of the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care. He believes California is in need of social service reform. He shared the difficulties he faced trying to navigate his way through the system and securing services for his daughter and described the new cuts to California’s most vulnerable people as “disastrous.”
By the end of the evening, it was obvious that people had walked into the room with admiration Chief Justice Moreno, but left with much more in awe. He leads an exemplary life professionally and personally. He protects the under served and disenfranchised. He rules with the knowledge and experiences he not only received from Yale, but also from the neighborhoods and public schools of Los Angeles. He protects the law and those it is meant to serve from his heart. He is not only a wise Latino man, but simply a wise man.
Watch a video of the event.
*Photos of Moreno by Aaron Salcido.