Gavin Newsom

California governor picks Rob Bonta as first Filipino attorney general

State assemblyman Rob Bonta, an advocate for criminal justice reform, expected to be confirmed by state legislature

Rob Bonta is an advocate for criminal justice reform


California’s governor has nominated a state assemblyman known for pushing criminal justice reform to be the state’s next attorney general. Rob Bonta, a Democrat, would replace Xavier Becerra, who was confirmed last week as Joe Biden’s health and human services secretary. Pending likely confirmation by the state’s Democratic legislature, Bonta would hold the job through 2022, when he would have to run for election.

Bonta, 48, would be the state’s first Filipino attorney general and had the backing of a several Asian American and Pacific Islander groups, as well as progressive groups and leaders on criminal and environmental justice.

Top AAPI elected officials had called on Newsom to name Bonta to the job amid reports of rising violence against Asian Americans and last week’s deadly mass shooting in Georgia.

“We have to continue to build bridges of trust between our API communities and law enforcement,” the Democratic assemblyman David Chiu of San Francisco said on that call last week.

California is home to more than 6 million people of Asian descent.

Bonta lives in Alameda and was elected to represent the east San Francisco Bay Area, including Oakland, in 2012. He is a prolific author of legislation, often with a criminal justice reform focus. State laws he’s introduced that were signed into law include a measure to automatically expunge marijuana-related offenses from people’s records after California legalized recreational marijuana, to eliminate private prisons and to end cash bail. Voters rejected the bail change in a 2020 referendum.

Before joining the legislature he was deputy city attorney in San Francisco and a member of the Alameda city council.

California voters elect their top prosecutor every four years, but Becerra left his seat with a year of his term left, leaving it to Newsom to appoint a successor who’d serve until the next election.

Attorney general is among the most highly coveted statewide offices in the state, second only to the governor in terms of public recognition and power. Kamala Harris previously held the job, as did former governor Jerry Brown.

Becerra, too, rose to national prominence in the role, launching more than 100 lawsuits against the Trump administration. He successfully sued to block policies that would strong-arm local law enforcement to cooperate with immigration authorities, insert a question about immigration status into the US census, or end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (Daca) program, which gives temporary protection to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the US as children.

Bonta in his new position is expected to play a key role in debates around police accountability, criminal justice reform and immigration in the coming years. Under a new California law, the state’s attorney general will take on the role of investigating all deadly police shootings of unarmed civilians. And the state is continuing to challenge Trump-era policies that restricted immigrant rights.

Gina Clayton-Johnson, executive director of the Essie Justice Group, a not-for-profit group for women with incarcerated loved ones working to reform the prison system, supported Bonta for the job. She cited his bill to end private prisons as well as his support for legislation to ban police from using certain restraints as examples of his commitment to reforming policing and the criminal justice system. “He is someone who will listen and take my calls and respond to me and my community,” she said.

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