Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuellar
- Gender: Male
- University: Harvard University
- Hometown: Calexico
- State: California
- Organization: Supreme Court of California
- Position Title: Associate Justice
Justice Cuéllar, the elder of two sons, was born in Matamoros, Mexico. His father was an educator who taught in public schools in both Mexico and the US, and Justice Cuéllar credits his parents for instilling in him and his brother, a passion for learning and service.
In an interview with The Sacramento Bee, he recalled how crossing the border from Matamoros each school day to attend a Catholic junior high in Brownsville, Texas, where he was a scholarship student, gave him a sense of inhabiting two worlds. Later, when the family moved to Calexico, California, where his father had taken a job as a high school teacher, he realized, even more “how life is different on each side of the border, how diverse the country [the US] is, and how we don’t control everything that happens to us.”
He attended Calexico High School, and his next stop was Harvard, where he graduated magna cum laude. He then earned a law degree from Yale Law School, followed by a doctorate in Political Science from Stanford University.
While in law school, he co-founded a nonprofit organization that deployed students to teach English in underserved countries. Summers, he worked at the US Senate and the President’s Council of Economic Advisors. He also worked to sanction bipartisan legislation to improve public health, reduce drug sentencing disparities, and repeal the legislated military policy known as Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell. In addition, he served both the Clinton and Obama administrations.
Five years after becoming a tenured professor at Stanford, he was appointed director of Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, and he also served as co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation. These appointments led to work for the United Nations on “rethinking refugee settlements, worldwide,” according to Stanford Magazine.
His unorthodox, yet practical, recommendations, such as bringing a world-class architect into the problem-solving mix in international efforts to resettle Rwandan refugees, attracted admirers from all sides of the political spectrum.
Today, he is an associate justice of the California Supreme Court, to which he was nominated by Governor Jerry Brown and subsequently elected to a full term, by the state’s voters. He also chairs the California Judiciary’s Language Access Task Force, where he leads efforts to provide free interpreters to help millions of state residents gain full access to the courts.
He serves on the boards of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the American Law Institute, and is a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2018, he received the Judicial Leadership Award from the Hispanic National Bar Foundation, and was one of 213 people honored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Asked the secret to his success, by The Sacramento Bee, he said: “I spent a good part of my early life in Mexico and have never forgotten how fortunate I am to be a US citizen. I’ve been lucky enough to have some great mentors including my parents and some great lawyers, including James Johnson, with whom I worked at the US Treasury Department and Judge Mary M. Schroeder on the 9th Circuit [Court] of Appeals.” And “part of it,” he added, “is the good advice I get from my wife,” Judge Lucy Koh of the Northern District of California.