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Stanley Mosk

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Stanley Mosk

Stanley Mosk
Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court
In office
September 1, 1964 – June 19, 2001
Appointed by Pat Brown
Preceded by Roger J. Traynor
Succeeded by Carlos R. Moreno
Attorney General of California
In office
Preceded by Pat Brown
Succeeded by Thomas C. Lynch
Personal details
Born September 4, 1912
San Antonio, Texas
Died June 19, 2001(2001-06-19) (aged 88)
San Francisco, California
Religion Reform Judaism

Stanley Mosk (September 4, 1912 – June 19, 2001) was an Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court for 37 years (1964–2001), and holds the record for the longest-serving justice on that court. Before sitting on the Supreme Court, he served as Attorney General of California and as a trial court judge, among other governmental positions. Mosk was the last Justice of the California Supreme Court to have served in non-judicial elected office prior to his appointment to the bench.

Early life and career

Mosk was born in San Antonio, Texas, but his parents moved when he was three years old, and he grew up in Rockford, Illinois. His parents, Paul and Minna, were Reform Jews (of Hungarian and German origin, respectively) who did not believe in strict religious observances.[1] Since Rockford sits next to the Wisconsin border, Mosk's parents followed Wisconsin politics and were strong supporters of Progressive Wisconsin Senator Robert M. La Follette, Sr.[2] Mosk graduated from the University of Chicago in 1933 with a bachelor's degree in philosophy.[3]

Mosk's life was strongly affected by the Great Depression. Because his father's business in Rockford was floundering, his parents and brother relocated to Los Angeles, and Mosk ended up following them after graduating from college, as they could not afford to support him for any further studies in Chicago.[4] At the time, it was still possible to use the last year of a bachelor's degree as the first year of a three-year law degree program, so while living with his parents, Mosk was able to obtain a law degree in only two years. He earned a LL.B from Southwestern University School of Law in 1935 and was admitted to the bar that same year.[5] Thanks to the Depression, none of the major L.A. firms were hiring; Mosk opened his own solo practice and shared an office with four other solos, each of whom maintained separate practices.[6] During those difficult years, Mosk was a general practitioner who took whatever walked in the door.[7]

While practicing law, Mosk occasionally assisted the Democratic politician Culbert Olson with campaigning, and in 1939 was given the job of executive secretary to Olson,[8] the first Democrat elected Governor of California in the 20th century. During Olson's last days in office, after his defeat for re-election by Republican Earl Warren, he appointed Mosk a Superior Court judge at the age of 31, the youngest in the state. Mosk faced opposition at his first retention election (California is a modified Missouri Plan state), but prevailed.

Mosk left the Superior Court to volunteer for service in the U.S. Army during World War II as a private, but spent most of the war in a transportation unit in New Orleans and was never sent abroad.[9] After his honorable discharge, he returned to California and resumed his judicial career. As a Superior Court judge, in 1947, he declared the enforcement of racial restrictive covenants unconstitutional before the U.S. Supreme Court did so in Shelley v. Kraemer. He also presided over many widely reported cases.

Attorney General of California

He was elected Attorney General of California in 1958 by the largest margin of any contested election in the country that year, and was the first person of Jewish descent to serve as a statewide executive branch officer in California. He was re-elected by a large margin in 1962. He served as the California National Committeeman to the Democratic National Committee and was an early supporter of John F. Kennedy for President. He remained close to the Kennedy family.

As attorney general for nearly six years, he issued approximately 2,000 written opinions and appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court in the Arizona v. California water case and other landmark cases.

Mosk established the Attorney General's Civil Rights Division and successfully fought to force the Professional Golfers' Association of America to amend its bylaws denying access to minority golfers. He also established Consumer Rights, Constitutional Rights, and Antitrust divisions. As California's chief law enforcement officer, he sponsored legislation creating the California Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training (POST).[10]

Mosk also commissioned a study of the resurgence of right-wing extremism in California which famously characterized the secretive John Birch Society as a "cadre" of "wealthy businessmen, retired military officers and little old ladies in tennis shoes."[11]

State Supreme Court Justice

While an early favorite to be elected to the United States Senate after the death of incumbent Clair Engle, Mosk was appointed to the California Supreme Court in September 1964 by Governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown to succeed the elevated Roger J. Traynor. He would go on to be retained by the electorate in 1964, and to three full twelve-year terms from 1974.[12]

Although he was a self-described liberal, he often displayed an independent streak that sometimes surprised his admirers and critics alike. For example, in Bakke v. Regents of the University of California, 18 Cal. 3d 34 (1976), Mosk ruled that the minority admissions program at the University of California, Davis violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. This decision was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978), which, unlike Mosk's opinion held that race could be factored in admissions to promote ethnic diversity. The United States Supreme Court agreed with Mosk in rejecting racial quotas. He also voted to uphold the constitutionality of a parental consent for abortion law—a law ultimately struck down by a majority of the court.[13]

Although personally opposed to the death penalty, Mosk voted to uphold death penalty convictions on a number of occasions. He believed he was obligated to enforce laws properly enacted by the people of the state of California, even though he personally did not approve of such laws. One example of how he articulated his beliefs is his concurrence in In re Anderson, 69 Cal. 2d 613 (1968):[14]

One of Mosk's contributions to jurisprudence was development of the constitutional doctrine of "independent state grounds". This is the concept that individual rights are not dependent solely on interpretation of the U.S. Constitution by the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts, but also can be found in state constitutions, which often provide greater protection for individuals.[15]

Although Mosk was widely viewed as a liberal, he was not a close ally of Chief Justice Rose Bird. As a result of that and his independence, he won reelection to the court in 1986 with 75% of the vote while Bird and two other justices closely allied with her were defeated for reelection. In November 1998 at age 86, Mosk was retained by the electorate for another twelve-year term.[16]

Mosk served until his death in 2001, having surpassed Justice John W. Shenk to become the longest-serving justice in the history of the Court in 1999. He authored many significant opinions, some of which have been included in law school casebooks. In 1999, Albany Law School Professor Vincent Martin Bonventre described Mosk as, "An institution, an icon, a trailblazer, a legal scholar, a constitutional guardian, a veritable living legend of the American judiciary, . . . one of the most influential members in the history of one of the most influential tribunals in the western world."[17]

He is the father of California Court of Appeal Justice Richard M. Mosk.

Courthouses named after Stanley Mosk

Stanley Mosk Courthouse, Grand Avenue entrance

The Stanley Mosk Courthouse, which is the main civil courthouse of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, is located at 111 North Hill Street in Los Angeles. It is part of the Civic Center complex which includes the County of Los Angeles Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration. The courthouse is often seen in the Perry Mason TV series, when Perry parks his car on Hill Street to go inside the building.

The Stanley Mosk Library & Courts Building is located on the Capitol Mall in Sacramento, California and is the home of the California Court of Appeal for the Third District.


  1. ^ Hon. Stanley Mosk, Oral History Interview (Berkeley: California State Archives Regional Oral History Office, 1998), 1-3.
  2. ^ Mosk Oral History Interview, 3.
  3. ^ Mosk Oral History Interview, 8.
  4. ^ Mosk Oral History Interview, 8.
  5. ^ Mosk Oral History Interview, 8-9.
  6. ^ Mosk Oral History Interview, 9.
  7. ^ Mosk Oral History Interview, 12.
  8. ^ Mosk Oral History Interview, 13-14.
  9. ^ Mosk Oral History Interview, 15-16.
  10. ^ California Attorney General web page:
  11. ^ "The Harmless Ones", Time, August 11, 1961
  12. ^ Gerald F. Uelmen, Justice Stanley Mosk, 62 Albany Law Review 1221, 1221 & fn. 1 (1999)
  13. ^ American Academy of Pediatrics v. Lungren, 16 Cal.4th 307 (1997)
  14. ^
  15. ^ Gerawan Farming, Inc. v. Lyons, 24 Cal.4th 468, 489-496, 510-515 (2000); Sands v. Morongo Unified School District, 53 Cal.3d 863, 905-907 (1991) (Mosk, J., concurring); People v. Pettingill, 21 Cal.3d 231, 247-248 (1978); People v. Brisendine, 13 Cal.3d 528, 545, 548-552 (1975); Stanley Mosk, Brennan Lecture: States' Rights -- And Wrongs, 72 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 552, 559-565 (1997); Stanley Mosk, State Constitutionalism: Both Liberal and Conservative, 63 Tex. L. Rev. 1081, 1087-1093 (1985)
  16. ^ Gerald F. Uelmen, Justice Stanley Mosk, 62 Albany Law Review 1221, 1221 (1999)
  17. ^ Vincent Martin Bonventre, Editor's Foreword to State Constitutional Commentary, 62 Albany Law Review 1213, 1213 (1999)

Biographic Sources

  • Stanley Mosk, Oral History interview, Regional Oral History Office, University of California, Berkeley, 1998
  • Text of speeches given in memory by Justices of the California Supreme Court, from the California Supreme Court Historical Society
  • Uelmen, Gerald F., "Tribute to Justice Stanley Mosk", Albany Law Review, June 22, 2002
Legal offices
Preceded by
Pat Brown
Attorney General of California
Succeeded by
Thomas C. Lynch
Preceded by
Roger J. Traynor
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of California
Succeeded by
Carlos R. Moreno
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