Statement on the Passing of Former California State Justice Cruz Reynoso

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Release Date: 
Thursday, May 13, 2021

NLADA's Statement on the Passing of Former California State Justice Cruz Reynoso

Justice Cruz Reynoso was a champion of justice in and out of the robe. As the first Chicano California State Supreme Court Justice, he served as a role model and inspiration for young Latinos across the nation. Throughout his career, he never forgot his roots as a child of migrant workers who himself worked in the fields of California. 

Justice Reynoso helped lead California’s first statewide, federally funded legal aid program in the country. Early in his career, he led the California Rural Legal Assistance’s (CRLA) efforts to protect and provide rights to farmworkers. He also led the successful effort, involving NLADA and others, to oppose then-California governor Ronald Reagan’s attempt to cut funding for CRLA in response to its opposition to proposed cuts in state Medicaid funding and other controversies. He knew and understood the need that everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, religious or economic status, must be afforded equal justice under the law.

He was nominated by then California Governor Edmund "Pat" Brown to the state’s Supreme Court. During his tenure, he wrote several of the Court’s groundbreaking opinions, including the right for non-English speaking defendants to have interpreters at every aspect of the criminal justice process.

Justice Reynoso was a social justice warrior who, as a Professor of Law at University of California, Davis and Los Angeles, taught future generations of attorneys to be champions of the poor, especially those in rural areas. He also was vice-chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 1993 to 2004.

He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton. Justice Reynoso was not only a champion for Latino civil rights but for everyone whose voice had been ignored or silenced.

NLADA sends its deepest sympathies and respects to the Reynoso family.


The National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA), founded in 1911, is America’s oldest and largest nonprofit association devoted to excellence in the delivery of legal services to those who cannot afford counsel. NLADA has pioneered access to justice at the national, state and local levels through the creation of our public defender systems and other important institutions from The Sentencing Project to the Legal Services Corporation. A leader in the development of national standards for civil legal aid and public defense, NLADA also provides advocacy, training and technical assistance for equal justice advocates across the country.