Judge Stephen Reinhardt, for 37 years the “liberal lion” of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, has died at 87.
Reinhardt, appointed to the court by President Carter, most recently issued strong criticism of the Trump administration’s deportation policies and the travel ban he imposed on Muslim-majority countries. He was on the panel that rejected California’s same-sex marriage ban, in Proposition 8.
Reinhardt also served on a special three-judge tribunal that found California’s prisons vastly overcrowded in violation of the Constitution’s protections against cruel and unusual punishment. The panel ordered the system changed and numbers reduced.
He was appointed by Carter in 1980 and he remained an active judge with full-time caseload. His death creates an opening on the court for President Trump to fill.
Of the gay marriage ban he said in 2012, “All parties agree that Proposition 8 has one effect only. It stripped same-sex couples of the ability they previously had possessed to obtain from the state, or any other authorized party, an important right – the right to obtain and use the designation of ‘marriage’ to describe their relationships. Nothing more, nothing less.”
He joined in the majority decision that the phrase “under God” in the pledge of allegiance violated separation of church and state. He said a federal ban on a common second trimester abortion procedure infringed a woman’s right to choose.
He also ruled that terminally ill patients have a constitutional right to end their own lives. In that ruling alone he referenced Hume, Montaigne, and King Lear.
Just last year, he recognized that precedent did not allow him to delay the deportation of Andres Magana Ortiz, an undocumented immigrant who had lived in the US 28 years despite having a wife and children who were US citizens. But Reinhardt decried the cruelty of the Trump administration action.
He showed no favor to liberal politicians. In 1997, he leveled a withering attack on President Clinton for failing to appoint blacks or Hispanics to the appeals court in a speech at the 10th annual luncheon honor Dr. Martin Luther King in San Francisco. He noted that year that it was the first time in a generation the nation’s largest appeals court did not have a single black or Hispanic judge on the 28-judge court. He also criticized Clinton’s record on civil rights during the talk.
He had the dubious distinction of being reversed by the US Supreme Court than any other federal judge, including two opinions in one day in 2011.
Among his prominent rulings over the years:
Found in 1991 that an “English-only” provision for state employees in the Arizona constitutional was overly broad and violated the First Amendment free speech protections.
Ruled in 2000 that an alien cannot be held indefinitely in detention when there is no repatriation agreement with his or her homeland.
Found in 2002 that the right to bear arms is a collective right, not an individual right. That was later overruled by the Supreme Court in 2008.
Held in 2009 that the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied health benefits to a same-sex spouse, violated the Due Process clause of the 5th amendment.
Chief Judge Sidney Thomas said, “As a judge, he was deeply principled, fiercely passionate about the law and fearless in his decisions. He will be remembered as one of the giants of the federal bench.”
Reinhardt was also the grandson of movie director Max Reinhardt.
Reinhardt died Thursday of a heart attack during a visit to his dermatologist, according to a Buzzfeed report.