Stephen Reinhardt, ‘Liberal Lion’ Of Federal Appeals Court, Dies

The liberal face of the United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who was also part of a panel that rejected California’s Proposition 8 same-sex marriage ban, saying it was unconstitutional, died Thursday afternoon, court spokesperson David Madden confirmed. He was 87.

Madden said Reinhardt died of a heart attack during a visit to his dermatologist in Los Angeles. 

Sidney R. Thomas, 9th Circuit Chief Judge, also spoke about Reinhardt’s death and said, “All of us here at the 9th Circuit are shocked and deeply saddened by Judge Reinhardt’s death. We have lost a wonderful colleague and friend. He will be remembered as one of the giants of the federal bench. He had a great life that ended much too soon,” Los Angeles Times reported. 

Thomas described Reinhardt as being “deeply principled, fiercely passionate about the law and fearless in his decisions.”

Reinhardt was the last federal appeals court judge in active service who was appointed by former President Jimmy Carter in 1979. 

Judge Stepehen Reinhardt of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals dies at 87 In this photo, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (R) is sworn in by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Stephen Reinhardt (L) during his inauguration ceremony, July 1, 2005. Photo: Getty Images / Robyn Beck

Born to a Jewish family in March 1931, Reinhardt received his Bachelors of Law degree in the year 1954 from Yale Law School. He was dubbed a “liberal lion” of the federal circuit courts. 

Reports stated early on in his career, his ruling in favor of criminal defendants, minorities, and immigrants were turned down by the U.S. Supreme Court more often than not. 

A lot of his colleagues reportedly joked Reinhardt’s name on the ruling was more than enough to grab the attention of the conservatives on the Supreme Court. After his ruling was reversed several times, the Times asked him in 1996 if he felt upset about the same, to which he said, “Not in the slightest! If they want to take away rights, that’s their privilege. But I’m not going to help them do it.”

In his entire career spanning close to four decades, Reinhardt did his best to help the underdog. However, his big moment was in 2012 when he was a part of a three-judge panel that rejected California’s voter-approved Proposition 8. They argued the ban unconstitutionally singled out and discriminated against the LGBTQ community. 

The panel found out Proposition 8 harmed the gay and lesbian community by denying them the right to civil marriage, which is in violation of Amendment 14. 

According to a report in CNN, during the final years of his life, Reinhardt emerged as a staunch critic of Trump administration’s deportation policies and travel ban. 

In March 2017 when the 9th Circuit refused to rehear the case on travel ban, Reinhardt had said, “I am proud to be a part of this court and a judicial system that is independent and courageous and that vigorously protects the constitutional rights of all, regardless of the source of any efforts to weaken or diminish them.”

Reinhardt is survived by his wife, Ramona Ripston, Director of the ACLU of Southern California until her retirement in February 2011 and his three children. 

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