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Cruz Reynoso, Law

  • By Regina McConahay
  • Published Aug 14, 2000 8:00 AM

UCLA Law Professor and former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso is standing in dual spotlights this and next month as the recipient of two prestigious awards from the nation’s capital.

At a White House ceremony August 9, President Clinton awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to Reynoso and 14 other honorees for their outstanding contributions to the security or national interests of the U.S., to world peace, cultural enrichment and other endeavors.

On September 7, Reynoso will again be in the Washington, D.C. limelight, this time at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for an NBC-televised presentation to receive the Hispanic Heritage Award in Education, 2000.

The accolades follow a stellar career in law and public service that was rooted at the bottom in poverty and discrimination. The son of farmworkers, Reynoso grew up one of 11 children in his family in Orange County, where he picked fruit as a youth and attended segregated schools with fellow Hispanics.

Even at 14, he found deep inside him the strength to speak out. He petitioned Washington, D.C. to get mail service for his La Habra community. Ignoring friends who warned he would never be admitted to college, he earned a B.A. degree from Pomona College in 1953, followed by a law degree from UC Berkeley in 1958. In 1967, he joined the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but returned to California a year later to head California Rural Legal Assistance, one of the pioneering programs of the legal services movement.

In 1972, he joined the University of New Mexico law faculty, only to have his academic career interrupted four years later when he was appointed an associate justice of the California Court of Appeal. In 1982, Reynoso was elevated to the California Supreme Court as its first Hispanic associate justice. Full-time private practice followed until he joined the UCLA law faculty in 1991.

Among UCLA law students, he is a beloved teacher, selected by law students as Professor of the Year five years ago. Yet Reynoso also manages to juggle the demands of service as the Clinton-appointed vice chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights with a full life as scholar, faculty adviser for the Chicano-Latino Law Review and speaker at symposia and conferences on campus and around the country.