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Memorial service today for Judge Stephen Reinhardt, ‘liberal lion’ of federal appeals court

Judge Stephen Reinhardt listens to arguments before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in 2014.
(Jeff Chiu / Pool)

A public memorial service was scheduled Saturday in Westwood for Judge Stephen Reinhardt, a liberal stalwart on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, who died last month at 87.

The service was scheduled for 9 a.m. at the Westwood Village Theatre, near UCLA, according to sponsors.

An appointee of President Carter, Reinhardt was known as the “liberal lion” of the federal circuit courts. He died of a heart attack March 29 in Los Angeles, according to a spokesman for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco.

Reinhardt’s rulings in support of criminal defendants, minorities and immigrants were often overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Reinhardt ruled as unconstitutional: the phrase “under God’’ in the Pledge of Allegiance; a law banning the procedure that opponents call “partial-birth abortion’’; a Washington state ban on doctor-assisted suicide; Arizona’s English-only language law; and Proposition 8, the 2008 California ballot referendum barring same-sex marriage.

Each of those rulings was overturned or vacated by the Supreme Court. The same-sex marriage case was remanded back to California for further proceedings, and Proposition 8 was ultimately ruled unconstitutional.

“Judge Stephen Reinhardt’s decisions reflected the way he lived his life — with empathy, compassion and integrity,’' former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa tweeted.

After serving two years in the Air Force, Reinhardt served as a clerk for a federal judge in the District of Columbia, then entered private practice in Los Angeles, specializing in labor and election law.

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Reinhardt was an informal advisor to L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley and was appointed by Bradley to the Recreation and Parks and Police commissions.

The judge was also among the city’s representatives on the Coliseum Commission.

He was president of of the Police Commission when he was appointed to the 9th Circuit in 1980.

Reinhardt was married to Ramona Ripston, retired executive director of the ACLU of Southern California.

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“He was brilliant — a great legal mind and writer — but he was equally hard working,’' said Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California who clerked for Reinhardt from 1995-96. “He worked seven days a week, completely committed to doing justice.

“I remember once being in his chambers at 11 o’clock on a Saturday night when he was writing a dissent because the full 9th Circuit had decided not to rehear a death penalty appeal. He knew it was totally pointless. It wasn’t going to affect the outcome. But it was the right thing to do, and that’s what mattered. He wanted his voice and his objections heard.’'

carlos.lozano@latimes.com


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