Appellate Strategist’s survey of potential nominees to the California Supreme Court  begins with Mariano-Florentino Cuellar. Cuellar graduated from Calexico High School in Calexico, California. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Harvard in 3 years (magna cum laude, 1993), he received a Master’s degree in political science from Stanford in 1996, followed by a law degree from Yale in 1997, and a Ph.D. from Stanford in 2000. He then served as law clerk to Chief Judge Mary M. Schroeder of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. 

Since the culmination of his clerkship in 2001, Cuellar has been a professor at Stanford Law School, first as an Assistant/Associate Professor and then, since June 2007, as a Full Professor and Deane F. Johnson Faculty Scholar. According to his faculty biography, his work at Stanford involves “the intersection of law, public policy, and political science.” His courses deal with issues of administrative law, regulation and bureaucracy, executive power, and national security. 

Professor Cuellar’s tenure at Stanford has included governmental, as well as academic, endeavors. In fact, even before he assumed his faculty position at Stanford, he interrupted his Ph.D. program to serve as Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary (Enforcement) of the Treasury from 1997 to 1999, in which role he focused on financial crime enforcement, terrorism financing countermeasures, immigration, and border security. In 2008 and 2009, he served as Co-Chair of the Immigration Policy Working Group for the Obama-Biden Transition Project, where he worked to formulate policies on immigration, borders, and refugees. In 2009 and 2010, he served as Special Assistant to the President for Justice and Regulatory Policy, in which role he led the White House Domestic Policy Council’s work on criminal justice and drug policy; civil rights and liberties; immigration, borders, and refugees; public health and safety; rural development and agriculture policy; and regulatory reform.

Beyond Stanford, Professor Cuellar is associated with the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Bar Association, the American Law Institute, the American Constitution Society, the La Raza Lawyers’ Association of California, and the National Hispanic Bar Association, among others. He is married to former Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Lucy H. Koh, who is now a federal district court judge for the Northern District of California pursuant to an appointment by President Obama.

Because Cuellar has not served on the bench, his views on topics that might come before the Court must be gleaned from his writings and appearances in the media. A brief sampling of his academic writing is heavy on federal matters:

  • Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, The Political Economies of Criminal Justice, 75 U. Chi. L. Rev. 941 (2008) (responding to the proposition that politicians increasingly govern by framing social policy choices as criminal justice problems, and concluding that “reshaping the [crime-governance connection] to achieve more defensible social goals is a subtle enterprise. Sensible changes in criminal justice could almost certainly yield an acceptable social equilibrium less dependent on incarceration.”)
  • Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, Auditing Executive Discretion, 82 Notre Dame L. Rev. 227 (2006) (proposing an audit framework similar to “sample adjudication of class action” in lieu of the deferential or non-existent judicial review of executive decision-making and concluding “(1) Judicial review fails to constrain a broad range of discretionary executive decisions subject to mistakes or malfeasance. (2) The limitations of traditional judicial review do not imply that discretionary executive branch decisions should be immune from some form of review. (3) Arguments for broad executive discretion are often radically underdeveloped and fail to withstand scrutiny.”)
  • Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, The International Criminal Court and the Political Economy of Antitreaty Discourse, 55 Stanford L. Rev. 1597 (May 2003) (arguing that the United States objects to the ICC on “process-oriented” grounds because a “focus on procedure sounds marginally more principled to international audiences than a brute realist assertion that American interests are best served by keeping unfettered control of military decisions.” “Yet this comes with costs: It elides the debate over the value of the brute realist position that American military power should be subject to few meaningful constraints and instead makes it look like the most important question is about the procedural shortcomings of a court that is precisely meant to address the arbitrariness in international criminal justice that critics use to assail it.”)

Professor Cuellar’s appearances in the media have often revolved around his role in shaping the Obama Administration’s immigration policy. His appointment to President Obama’s Immigration Policy Working Group was interpreted by experts as confirmation that President Obama was committed to comprehensive immigration reform.  Moreover, both the National Council of La Raza and the League of United Latin American Citizens greeted Professor Cuellar’s appointment with approval.

Though economic factors have put the immigration debate on the back burner, President Obama’s recent attempt to jump-start the issue suggests that his need for Professor Cuellar’s services may become more pressing in the near future. Whether that impacts Governor Brown’s appointment, or Professor Cuellar’s willingness to serve, remains to be seen.