Gov. Jerry Brown swore in University of California, Berkeley, law professor Goodwin Liu to the California Supreme Court on Thursday, just three months after Liu withdrew from consideration for a seat on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Liu, whose parents came to the U.S. from Taiwan, replaces the court's only Latino, Carlos Moreno, who retired in February. Latinos make up the state's largest racial minority.
With Liu's appointment, four of the state's seven justices are of full or partial Asian descent, while three are white.
Brown said that shows the progress California has made since the days of anti-Asian and Chinese laws and attempts to drive out Native Americans and blacks in the 19th century.
"That is a real milestone, and maybe our forebears, wherever they are, will turn over in their respective graves but enjoy the progress that we've made," Brown said.
He praised Liu as having "the kind of character and temperament that brings people together," a trait Brown said is sorely needed in a time of divided government.
Liu will quickly consider a very divisive issue, when the justices hear arguments Tuesday over whether financial contributors to a measure that banned gay marriage can appeal a federal judge's decision to strike down the ban.
Liu thanked supporters who stood by him "when I needed it most," an apparent reference to the battle when Republican U.S. senators blocked his appointment to the federal bench over his criticism of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in 2006. President Barack Obama had nominated Liu to the federal appeals court last year.
Brown, a Democrat, nominated Liu to the state's high court in July.
Liu recalled moving to Sacramento from his native Georgia in 1977 at age 6, and touring the state Capitol when Brown, age 73, was serving his first two terms as governor.
"I never imagined our paths would cross quite like this," Liu, 40, told Brown. "Thank you for the opportunity of a lifetime."