Former Supreme Court Justice and Civil Rights Leader Cruz Reynoso Passes Away at Age 90

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Cruz Reynoso talks to Santa Gutierrez, father of slain farm worker Luis Gutierrez, in Sacramento in 2010.

By David M. Greenwald

At 4:30 pm on Friday former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, appointed in 1982 by Governor Jerry Brown as the first Latino to serve on the State Supreme Court passed away after several years of declining health.  He was 90.

Caught up in the purge of the Rose Bird Court in 1986, Reynoso made a career for himself teaching first at UCLA and then in 2001 at UC Davis where he taught until 2017.

President Clinton appointed Cruz to be the vice-chair of the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights and in 2000 gave Cruz the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work in Social Justice.

Locally, in 2010, he headed up an Independent Civil Rights Commission to investigate the killing of farmworker Luis Gutierrez in Woodland at the hands of Yolo County Sheriffs.  In 2012, he headed the Pepper Spray Task Force and issued a scathing report on the conduct of Lt. John Pike and other police officers on the quad of UC Davis in November 2011.

His family issued the following press release on Friday:

On May 7, 2021, former California Supreme Court Associate Justice, law professor, and civil rights activist Cruz Reynoso passed away at age 90, surrounded by his family. Reynoso was born on May 2, 1931 in Brea, California to Francisca Ramirez Reynoso and Juan Reynoso. Cruz was one of eleven children. Cruz along with his father and brothers worked as migrant farm workers. After high school, Cruz decided to go to college and attended Fullerton Community College, and then Pomona College. After graduation, Cruz was drafted into the U.S. Army where he served on the Counterintelligence Corp. While serving in the Army, Cruz was stationed in Washington D.C. where he met his first wife, Jeannene Harness. They married in 1956 and raised four children together. Jeannene passed in 2007 and in 2008 Cruz married Elaine Rowan. Elaine passed in 2017.

Cruz earned his law degree from Boalt Hall at UC Berkley in 1958. After which he practiced law in El Centro, California. In 1968 Cruz became the director of California Rural Legal Assistance, the first state-wide legal services program. In 1972 Cruz became a law professor at University of New Mexico. In 1976, Governor Brown appointed him to be a Justice of the 3rd District Court of Appeals. In 1982, Brown appointed Cruz to be the first Mexican American to serve on the State Supreme Court. After leaving the Court in 1987, Cruz practiced law once again. In 1991 Cruz began teaching law at UCLA. In 2001 UC Davis offered Cruz the Boochever and Bird Chair designed to promote freedom and equality. Cruz accepted and taught at UC Davis until 2017.

Cruz worked for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under the Johnson administration, was appointed by President Carter to serve on the Congressional Select Commission on Immigrant and Refugee Policy. President Clinton appointed Cruz to be the vice-chair of the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights and in 2000 gave Cruz the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work in Social Justice.  Cruz also served on Barak Obama’s transition team.

Cruz’s life passion was creating a more just society. He fought for equal rights for under-represented populations, legal access for the poor, worker’s rights, immigration reform, and voting rights. When not fighting legal battles, Cruz loved working on his ranch in Sacramento County. Cruz also loved reading about history and loved to draw. Abby Ginsberg produced an award-winning film about Cruz’s life titled “Sowing the Seeds of Justice.”

Cruz is survived by four brothers, four sisters, his four children and their spouses (Trina and Duane Heter, Ranene and Bob Royer, Len and Kym Reid Reynoso, Rondall and Pamela Reynoso) along with two stepchildren and their spouses (Dean and Laudon Rowan, Hali Rowen and Andy Bale), seventeen grandchildren, three step grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Cruz is greatly loved and will be greatly missed. In lieu of flowers feel free to donate to the Cruz and Jeannene Reynoso Scholarship for Legal Access UC Davis School of Law – Alumni & Giving – Giving – scholarships – Scholarships: Cruz and Jeannene Reynoso Scholarship for Legal Access.

Cruz Reynoso accepts the Vanguard Justice Award in 2011 at the Vanguard’s First Annual Event
Cruz Reynoso at UC Davis speaks on the Pepper Spray Report in 2012
Reynoso addresses the Task Force at UC Davis on the Pepper Spray Report
Cruz Reynoso with Jasmine Escamilla Greenwald
Cruz Reynoso climbed up on the MLK Statue at King Hall in October 2016
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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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2 thoughts on “Former Supreme Court Justice and Civil Rights Leader Cruz Reynoso Passes Away at Age 90”

  1. Alan Miller

    I had a chance to have a talk with him in the wake of the Pepper Spray incident and heard him talk on it a couple of times – and of course got to know his history as he took on that roll.  Struck as one of the most intelligent, fair, caring and level-headed people I had ever met.

    Congratulations on a long life, well lived, good sir.

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