Carlos R. Moreno, a former California Supreme Court justice who has been a champion of civil rights, was confirmed unanimously by the Senate as the United States ambassador to Belize.
Asked by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) during his confirmation hearing last October if he had ever visited Belize, according to the Washingtonpost.com, Moreno answered “Yes, about two years ago, and I’ve also visited the adjoining countries of Mexico and Guatemala, so I’m familiar in particular with the Yucatán.”
The new ambassador was born in Los Angeles, the child of Mexican immigrants. His father died while young, and Moreno grew up speaking Spanish at home, which was in the Solano Canyon area of L.A., not far from Dodger Stadium.
He attended Yale during the 1960s, when the Ivy was just starting to open its doors to minority students, on a scholarship. He was one of three Latinos in a class of about 1,000, according to a 2009 Los Angeles Times article.
Moreno, who studied law at Stanford and is widely regarded as a legal centrist, was first appointed to the bench as a municipal court judge in 1986 after a career as a prosecutor and then in private practice. He served as a federal District Court judge from 1998 to 2001.
He was appointed to the Supreme Court of California by then-Gov. Gray Davis in October 2001, and served there for 10 years.
Moreno told the L.A. Times, that he considers himself a “careful” jurist. “I am not in favor of big leaps,” he said.
But he became sort of a champion for gay rights in 2009 after he was the only California Supreme Court justice who voted to overturn Proposition 8, an initiative that reinstated a ban on same sex marriages. It would be seen as his signature opinion while on the bench.
"He has been a champion of ensuring the Constitution's protection of equality," Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, the state's largest gay-rights group, said at the time.
His decision came at a time when President Barack Obama was considering him as a possible successor to Supreme Court Justice David Souter. The president later announced that he was naming Sonia Sotomayor to the nation’s top court.
UC Irvine Law School dean, Erwin Chemerinsky, told the L.A. Times that his Proposition 8 decision was a bold one – especially since he was being considered for such a coveted post.
“He knew he was being considered for the U.S. Supreme Court, and it would have been very easy for him in a 6-1 case to make it unanimous,” he said.
After his bold dissenting opinion, Moreno likened the gay marriage fight to the one-time ban on interracial marriages.
“The bans against interracial marriage were at one time widely accepted,” Moreno told the L.A. Times, “but no one would tolerate that kind of restriction in modern times. And I think the same is true for gay marriage.”
Moreno and his wife, Christine, an artist, have three kids.
Since 2011, he was worked at the private L.A. law firm of Irell & Manella. He has also served as the president of the Mexican American Bar Association.