As a small-town farmer turned Supreme Court justice, Marvin Baxter ’66 brought the perspective of the local community to legal decisions in a way that few other judges could.
During the nearly three decades that he served on the Supreme Court, Baxter handled a multitude of cases ranging from death penalty decisions to same-sex marriages. Having retired in January, Baxter recently donated a 10-volume set of his writings to The UC Hastings Law Library — offering students a rare glimpse into a justice’s life’s work. The other three sets will reside at the California Judicial Center Library, the Fifth District Court of Appeal and California State University, Fresno, where he completed his undergraduate degree in economics.
Raised on an 80-acre grape vineyard and walnut orchard in Fowler, California, Baxter went on to work for the D.A.’s office, practice private law and he served as Appointments Secretary during Deukmejian’s first six years as Governor of California, assisting in all gubernatorial appointments to the executive and judicial branches. He then served on the Court of Appeal for two years before he was promoted to the Supreme Court. Throughout his career, Baxter navigated contentious issues all while maintaining clear foresight and adherence to the law. Looking back at his time on the bench, Baxter cherishes the sense of camaraderie the most. “What really stood out to me were the relationships that I had with my colleagues,” Baxter said. “It was 24 years of discussing controversial cases and focusing on arriving at a conclusion.”
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye shared the bench with Baxter for almost five years, marveling at his sharp memory and common-sense approach to court decisions. “He was famous in my mind for asking the hypothetical questions,” Justice Cantil-Sakauye said. Unlike most judges, Baxter had the uncanny ability to step back from a heated situation and to question the practicality of a solution. “I miss having that on the bench,” she remarked. “He was always the one to ask: ‘How does this apply in the real world?’”
Board of Directors member Carin Fujisaki ’85 also worked with Baxter for several years as one of his judicial staff attorneys. Fujisaki said that he was pleasurable to work with and always remembered specific details of a case. “He was thoroughly engaged in the issues before the court,” she explained. “He also was fair-minded and approachable, courteous to everybody, and great to his staff.”
Despite all of his self-made success, Baxter credits his education at UC Hastings for providing him with a firm knowledge of the law, which he applied in his career. “I’m forever grateful for the quality of the faculty that we had at UC Hastings,” Baxter said.
Baxter met his wife, Jane -- an elementary school teacher -- at Fresno State and they married the summer before he attended UC Hastings. Along with his other siblings, Baxter and his wife established their homes in Fresno and raised their children there. "Our roots are very deep in that area," he said.
Along with his writings that can be studied in the library, students can also benefit from his legacy at the Justice Marvin and Jane Baxter Appellate Law Center — home to the school’s moot court, which is named in honor of Baxter and his wife. This September, Baxter will also be celebrated for his public service as Alumnus of the Year at the UC Hastings Honors Gala.