Judge Stephen Reinhardt witnessed and ruled on life’s legal issues from the bench US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and on the ground through his long marriage to Ramona Ripston, legendary former leader of the ACLU of Southern California. Reinhardt, who co-wrote the opinion that California’s Prop 8 was unconstitutional, died unexpectedly of a heart attack during a visit to a dermatologist on Thursday. He was 87.
“All of us here at the 9th Circuit are shocked and deeply saddened by Judge Reinhardt’s death,” 9th Circuit Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas told the Los Angeles Times. “We have lost a wonderful colleague and friend.”
Thomas called Reinhardt “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. He had a great life that ended much too soon,” Thomas said.
“He was a giant not just on the 9th Circuit but within the law,” UC Berkeley law school Dean Erwin Chemerinsky said. “He also was a judge with a particular vision of the law, based on enforcing the Constitution to protect people.”
“His view was to decide cases as he believed the law required, not to predict what the Supreme Court would do,” Chemerinsky said. “He was unapologetic about that.”
On Feb. 7, 2012, Reinhardt co-wrote with Judge Michael Daly Hawkins the 9th Circuit opinion affirming the 2010 decision by U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco that Prop 8 was unconstitutional, but also said the opinion was limited to California.
“For now, it suffices to conclude that the people of California may not, consistent with the federal Constitution, add to their state constitution a provision that has no more practical effect than to strip gays and lesbians of the right to use the official designation that the state and society give to committed relationships, thereby adversely affecting the status and dignity of the members of a disfavored class,” Reinhardt and Hawkins wrote.
President Donald Trump has blasted the 9th Circuit as a symbol of “a broken and unfair” court system. Trump now gets to fill the vacancy left by Reinhardt’s passing.