"Liberal Lion" 9th Circuit Court Judge Stephen Reinhardt Dies at 87

Published : Friday, March 30, 2018 | 3:19 PM

Judge Stephen Reinhardt, “A giant of the federal bench” in Pasadena’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, has died at the age of 87.

Considered one of the nation’s most liberal appellate court jurists, Reinhard died in Los Angeles Thursday of an apparent heart attack during a visit to a dermatologist, according to a spokesman for the Pasadena-based 9th Circuit.

“All of us here at the 9th Circuit are shocked and deeply saddened by Judge Reinhardt’s death,” said Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas. “We have lost a wonderful colleague and friend. As a judge, he was deeply principled and fiercely passionate about the law and fearless in his decisions. He will be remembered as one of the giants of the federal bench. He had a great life that ended much too soon.”

Born in New York, Reinhardt was a graduate of Pomona College and earned his law degree at Yale Law School. He served two years in the U.S. Air Force and was later a clerk for a federal judge in the District of Columbia, before starting a private practice in Los Angeles. He was also an informal adviser to Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and served on the city’s police commission from 1975 until his appointment to the 9th Circuit. Reinhardt was appointed to the bench in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter and confirmed by the U.S. Senate the following year.

He was considered to be one of the most liberal judges on the 9th Circuit and his rulings often placed him on the side of immigrants and prisoners. In 2012, he wrote an opinion striking down California’s gay marriage ban.

“He was brilliant—a great legal mind and writer—but he was equally hard-working,” said Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California who clerked for Reinhardt from 1995-96.

“He worked seven days a week, (and was) completely committed to justice. I remember once being in his chambers at 11 o’clock on a Saturday night when he was writing a dissent because the full 9th Circuit had decided not to rehear a death penalty appeal. He knew it was pointless. It wasn’t going to affect the outcome. But it was the right thing to do, and that’s what mattered. He wanted his voice, and his objections heard.”

“Judge Stephen Reinhardt’s decisions reflected the way he lived his life—with empathy, compassion, and integrity,” former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa tweeted. Reinhardt swore-in Villaraigosa to the first of his two terms as mayor in 2005.

Reinhardt was known as one of the most liberal judges on the courts of appeals. His decisions were “reversed more often than most” judges before the Supreme Court. In 2003, he admitted that he “was a liberal from a very young age.”

“I think I was born that way,” he said.

Reinhardt is survived by his wife, Ramona Ripston, the former director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.








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