2019 Zale Lecture Review

2019 Zale Lecture Review: Justin Oetting

The Stanford Public Policy Program hosted Justice Tino Cuéllar from the California Supreme Court on Tuesday, May 14 for the 2019 Zale Lecture. Since 1980, the Morris B. and Edna Zale
Lectureship, initially made possible by a gift from the Morris B. and Edna Zale Foundation, has sought to bring leading figures from a broad spectrum of public and private life for a lecture open to the Stanford Public Policy community. The Lectureship has hosted such distinguished speakers as George Shultz, Willie Brown, Mark McClellan, Robert Reischauer, and Christina Romer.

Justice Cuéllar began the lecture by telling a story about his daughter’s fears for the future. She was demoralized by the thought of inheriting society’s problems, including growing inequality, overwhelming home prices, and a warming climate. I, as well as many of my peers, also tend to be demoralized by the way the future appears and the problems we will have to overcome. While it is easy to respond cynically, Justice Cuéllar instead responded optimistically. For example, he pointed out how far we’ve come in improving quality of life over the past century. This sentiment of hope was the theme interwoven throughout his lecture.

In addressing polarization in America, Justice Cuéllar emphasized the importance of reconciling with those who have contrasting views. For example, he mentioned his friendship with Professor Lanhee Chen from the Hoover Institution, whose class I am currently taking. While Justice Cuéllar worked for the Obama administration, Professor Chen was the policy director for Mitt Romney’s campaign. Nevertheless, they were able to look past their political differences and build a friendship. In fact, I spoke with Professor Chen the day before the Zale lecture, and he mentioned how close he is to Justice Cuéllar. Justice Cuéllar pointed out how important it is to build trust and bridge the gap between people.

To end his lecture, Justice Cuéllar told us about President Obama’s decision-making process in ending the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. President Obama recognized that this decision was risky and could have blowback, yet said that he was in office to do what was right, despite the risks. Through reasoning like this, there will be positive change in the long run, even if change does not come linearly.

Not only does Justice Cuéllar have a long track record in policy-making and a history at Stanford, but he also has a friendly demeanor that is contagious. He breathes optimism, and that optimism is what future policymakers need to confront the problems at hand. For his commitment to advancing public policy and the enthusiasm he brings while doing so, Justice Cuéllar is the 2019 recipient of the Zale Award.