U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt, long regarded as one of the nation’s most liberal appellate court jurists, died in Los Angeles Thursday of a heart attack at age 87.

According to a spokesman for the 9th Circuit, Reinhardt died during a visit to a dermatologist.

“All of us here at the 9th Circuit are shocked and deeply saddened by Judge Reinhardt’s death,” said 9th Circuit Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas. “We have lost a wonderful colleague and friend. As a judge, he was deeply principled, fiercely passionate about the law and fearless in his decisions.

“He will be remembered as one of the giants of the federal bench. He had a great life that ended much too soon.”

Reinhardt was appointed to the bench in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter and confirmed by the U.S. Senate the following year. A New York native, Reinhardt was a graduate of Pomona College and earned his law degree at Yale Law School.

After serving two years in the U.S. Air Force, he served as a clerk for a federal judge in the District of Columbia, then entered private practice in Los Angeles. He served as an informal adviser to Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and served on the city’s Police Commission from 1975 until his appointment to the 9th Circuit.

Reinhardt was married to Ramona Ripston, former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

“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.”

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