Patricia Guerrero, left, is sworn in as a justice of the California Supreme Court by Gov. Gavin Newsom at the Stanford Mansion in Sacramento on Mar. 28, 2022. Photo by Nathaniel Levine, Sacramento Bee via AP, Pool

(CALMATTERS) – Sure there are those ambitious climate goals, the shuttered prisons, the state’s ever-worsening homelessness crisis and the three-year COVID state of emergency. But among the many changes that will define Gov. Gavin Newsom’s legacy as political leader of California, one of the most enduring, if under-appreciated, is his reshaping of the judiciary. 

According to new judicial appointment data his press office promoted this week, Newsom has added 288 new members to the state bench. On its face, that number isn’t all that remarkable. Over the course of his two final terms as governor, Jerry Brown appointed 644. Before him, Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed more than 600.

Instead, these are the statistics that Newsom wanted to highlight:

  • 146 (51%) of his judges are women;
  • At least 169 (59%) are people of color.

As of last year, 40% of sitting judges and justices were women and roughly two-thirds were white.

As my colleague Byrhonda Lyons has written, gender and ethnic diversity on the bench has been a growing emphasis for California governors. Nearly 40% of Brown’s appointees were people of color, compared to just 27% of Schwarzenegger’s. 

Newsom has gone out of his way to make demographic “firsts” with his appointments. On the state Supreme Court, Newsom picked Patricia Guerrero as chief justice, a Latina, and appointed Justice Martin Jenkins, who is openly gay. 

Two more firsts: Alex Padilla is the first Latino to serve as a U.S. senator from California and Shirley Weber is the first Black Secretary of State — both Newsom picks before he won reelection in 2022.