A legal legend has died. Cruz Reynoso, former Justice of the Supreme Court dead at 90 [Opinion]

Cruz Reynoso was a great American. It was my honor to serve with Justice Reynoso for more than a decade on the Gaming Commission. Together, we issued gaming licenses to businesses and employees, revoked or suspended those licenses, and imposed fines on organizations that violated policy and regulations.

I sat next to Cruz at almost every meeting and admired his great intellect and reasoning. He was simply brilliant and his reasoning concise and always compassionate for those we had to discipline or terminate. We shared many laughs with fellow commissioners  like Dr. Frank Curry and our Gaming Commission staff.

Cruz Reynoso, SupCo Justice Dead at 90 [Opinion]

Cruz Reynoso with California Supreme Court Justices.

Cruz Reynoso was also a proud Veteran of the United States Army. He served in the Intelligence Branch in Washington, D.C. He once told me, “Of the Army Intelligence Branch…remember Tom it is a occupation…not a state of mind.“  This was a great man. He put the “ P” in Patriot.

While serving as County Commissioner, I asked Cruz to lead the Pledge of Allegiance at our International Trade Conference. Justice Reynoso agreed and flew in from his ranch in Sacramento County. This proud American donned his U. S. Army service cap he earned in the Korean War era and led all in the pledge. Ambassadors and Consul Generals from several nations wanted to speak with him and get their picture with him.

When a local high school asked me to see if Justice Reynoso could address their students. Justice Reynoso agreed. I was privileged to introduce this distinguished and humble man. He was decorated by former President Obama with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His personal achievements and awards could fill rooms. Before he could say a word those students, faculty, and guests erupted and gave him a standing ovation.

Cruz Reynoso honored my wife Brenda and I and joined us at our wedding. That same year he invited the two of us to the premiere of his biography film. In a overflowing room he ensured Brenda and I had seats next to him. He proceeded to introduce me as “ one of us and encouraged me to register as a Democrat “ .  On that score we disagreed.

This legendary man stood tall at just five foot seven inches and slight of build . This man spent his entire life reasoning for justice and liberty for every American .

Cruz Reynoso, SupCo Justice Dead at 90 [Opinion]

Cruz Reynoso with California Supreme Court Justices.

He fought for farm workers rights and served as the Attorney for civil rights leader and U. S. Navy Veteran Caesar Chavez. He went to war with Governor Ronald Reagan. Cruz shared many stories about then Governor Reagan. He would say “ Governor Reagan didn’t like me very  much “ and followed that by laughing. Then he would say “ President Reagan surprised him when he signed the bill giving undocumented people amnesty but that it was the right thing to do .”

If you remember those E.F. Hutton television commercials, “When E. F. Hutton talks people listen,“ … that could be easily applied to Justice Cruz Reynoso. Reasoning, logic, fairness, compassion, always examining all perspectives,  kind, and concise. Fellow Commissioners listened intently when he spoke.

Cruz Reynoso was a sought-after speaker. When a memorial was being constructed to honor civil rights leader Caesar Chavez, my friend  and former colleague Emilio Ramirez, also a member of the bar and advocate for fair housing, asked me if Justice Reynoso could attend the fund raiser.

I called Cruz and he flew into Ontario Airport and addressed the crowd and shared his experiences with Caesar Chavez. He was also welcomed with a round of applause. Later he would be a supporter of Ramirez for a gubernatorial appointment.

The Community Action Partnership also honored Justice Reynoso with recognition for his civil rights work and humanitarian efforts. Brenda Salas Freeman, the Executive Director of this poverty fighting agency, presented Cruz with the award. Cruz spoke to an overflow crowd and humbly accepted the honor.

As the attorney for the civil rights leader, Cruz differed on immigration stance taken — initially by Caesar Chavez. “I had to help him see the light on the immigration issues and change his views to a pro migrant position.”

Every laborer in this nation owes Cruz Reynoso a debt of gratitude. He changed the way people were treated and even the tools that farm workers had to use in the fields as they harvested vegetables that would feed Americans and the world.

Cruz Reynoso served as the first Latino on the State Supreme Court. During his confirmation he testified that he supported the death penalty. Then Attorney General and later Gov. George Deukmejian grilled Reynoso on the issue. During the confirmation, one member of the judiciary called then Judge Reynoso, “A professional Mexican.” This was a racial slur which Justice Reynoso said, “I considered it an honor to be called “A professional Mexican.”

He was born in Brea. He really began his civil rights work as a child when he and his parents and siblings were farm workers. He took on the U. S. Postal Service and the Post Master General . His letters and reasoning secured the right to receive mail for his family and fellow farm workers. This was long before California or our nation knew of Caesar Chavez.

On the U. S. Civil Rights Commission he served as its vice chair. He was selected for this important assignment by former President William Jefferson Clinton. He served this post with distinction. Once again he served to protect individual rights and protected those being discriminated against.

When his daughter called me a few years back she shared that Cruz was in failing health and that his memory was fading. She told me he would be stepping down from the Gaming Commission post he had held for a decade.

She said, “Tom, when he speaks with you, sometimes he doesn’t remember you yet later he wants to call you.” This was a sad day for his family and the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians. It was one of the worst phone calls I have ever taken. He was my wing man, mentor, and friend. Age had finally caught up with this Patriot.

Tribal leadership honored Cruz at a special meeting. They thanked Justice Reynoso for his service as a regulator and friend of the American Indian.

Justice Reynoso made things better. He used intellect, his reasoning for good. He fought for the little guy and he did that with humility and with all his achievements remained so humble. He was just a wonderful man, husband, and father. He loved his farm and his animals and cared for them.

On May 7th, 2021, we lost a great American. Cruz Reynoso passed away and his work for the common man on earth has ended. His legacy lives on and will stand the test of time.

You don’t have to agree with Cruz Reynoso, his views, his written opinions, or policies but his service in the Army, his scholarship, his patriotism, and his fidelity should earn your respect.

Cruz Reynoso has earned full military honors for his funeral services. That includes a 21-gun salute. Cpl. Reynoso loved this country. He made us better. In his 90 years on earth he did more for those who work hard than many who got credit for his work. Cruz wasn’t about credit. He was about results and fairness for all. You can say he lived his life for “Liberty and Justice for all.”

Image Sources

  • Cruz Reynoso with California Supreme Court Justices.: Courtesy of California Supreme Court
  • Cruz Reynoso: Courtesy o California Supreme Court