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Arthur L. Alarcón papers

Identifier: 7029

Scope and Contents

This collection of Judge Alarcón's papers consists chiefly of case files and bench books spanning over forty years of his career in various government and judicial positions. Accompanying the official court records are newspaper clippings and Alarcón's research notes on specific cases such as the Robert Alton Harris case and the L. Ewing Scott case-- two high-profile murder cases. The scrapbooks in the collection also contain some of Alarcón's childhood ephemera as well as career memorabilia and materials related to his service during World War II.


  • 1940-2014


Conditions Governing Use

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Manuscripts Librarian. Permission for publication is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.

Biographical Note

Arthur L Alarcón was a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, to which he was appointed in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. He had a long and prominent career in law which began immediately following law school graduation at the University of Southern California.

Born in 1925 in Los Angeles as the son of a baker from Mexico, Alarcón attended local schools and served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was the recipient of four Battle Stars and the Combat Infantry Badge, the Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart. Upon returning to Los Angeles, he attended UCLA for two years on the G.I. Bill, and then transferred to USC where he received his B.A. degree in political science and then law degree in 1951 from USC’s School of Law.

Following graduation, Judge Alarcón was hired by the District Attorney’s Office for Los Angeles and remained in that position until 1961 when Governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown appointed him legal advisor and Clemency and Extraditions secretary, in addition to serving on the Governor’s Special Commission on Narcotics (aka “Dope Commission”). From 1963 to 1964 Alarcón served as the executive assistant responsible for investigations to assist the governor in deciding whether to commute death sentences received by state prisoners. For a brief time, he served as chair of the California Adult Authority, the parole board for men, a position he held until he was named to the Superior Court of California for the County of Los Angeles--a position he held until 1978. From 1978 to 1979, Alarcón--appointed by Governor Jerry Brown, Jr.--served as an associate justice of the California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District in Los Angeles.

It was in 1979 that the Republican Alarcón was nominated by then President Jimmy Carter for a seat on the Ninth Circuit bench, becoming the first Latino to sit on the court. He served as an active judge until taking senior status in 1992. The longtime judge presided over many noteworthy cases, including that of Sirhan Sirhan, convicted of assassinating Robert F. Kennedy. Because he was so actively involved in a number of life or death decisions during his career, Alarcón conducted extensive research on the efficacy of capital punishment and, in his later years, he pushed for an overhaul of the state’s capital punishment system, arguing that the average lag time between conviction and execution was twice the national average. An article that Alarcón co-authored, “Executing the Will of the Voters?: A Roadmap to Mend or End the California Legislature’s Multi-Billion Dollar Death Penalty Debacle” appeared in a 2011 issue of the Loyola Law Review. A few years prior, the University of Southern California Law Review printed his article titled “Remedies for California’s Death Row Deadlock.”

Known as an expert in criminal law, Alarcón authored many publications and held teaching assignments as adjunct professor of law at Loyola Law School, University of Southern California, and Southwestern School of Law (where he received an honorary Doctorate in Law Degree in 2007). He was a lecturer on criminal procedure for the California College of Trial Judges, and lecturer on evidence in criminal matters for the National College of Trial Judges. Judge Alarcón filled in on other federal courts across the country and took pride in participating in international judicial exchange programs, working with judges in Chile and Argentina.

Alarcón’s civic involvements included service on the boards of directors of such Hispanic groups as Las Familias del Pueblo, Jardin de la Infancia, the Mexican-American Scholarship Foundation Assisting Careers in Law, and the Council of Mexican-American Affairs. He also served on the boards of the Los Angeles Boys and Girls Club, Legal Aid Foundation, Performing Arts Council for the Los Angeles Music Center, and the Junior League of Los Angeles. He was instrumental in broadening the mission of the Los Angeles Boys Club, so that it became The Boys and Girls Club nationwide.

Judge Alarcón was active in promoting the advancement of women and Latinos in the legal field. In 2000, the Judge was head of a committee tasked with having important buildings named after lawyers of modern importance, and he was instrumental in having the criminal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles named after the first woman admitted to the California Bar, Clara Shortridge Foltz. Foltz, a reformer and suffragist had litigated a series of cases that ultimately recognized women’s right to attend law school and sit for the California Bar.

Alarcón received many awards during the course of his career including the 2014 Judge of the Year Award from the Los Angeles County Bar Association, and the Precursor Para Justicia/Pioneer for Justice Award from the Mexican American Bar Foundation in 2010. In 2011, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy gave the keynote address at the dedication of the Alarcón Advocacy Center at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Alarcón passed away on January 28, 2015 at his home in Los Angeles after having been diagnosed with cancer the previous September. He had celebrated his 50th year as a judge in 2014; most of that half-century of judicial service was as a federal appellate judge. He had maintained a full caseload and continued to work for a time even after his diagnosis, never letting on to colleagues about his illness.


103 Linear Feet (150 boxes)

Language of Materials



Arthur L Alarcón was a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, to which he was appointed in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. He assumed senior status in 1992 and served until his death in 2015. Earlier in his career, he had served as Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, legal advisor/ Clemency and Extradition Secretary to Governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown (followed by his role as Executive Assistant), Superior Court judge for the County of Los Angeles, and Associate Justice for the California Court of Appeals, Los Angeles.

The records in this collection span nearly 75 years of Alarcón 's life, including a small amount of his childhood and service in the Army before he began his long and diverse career as a lawyer and judge. This collection contains files for hundreds of legal cases in which he served in different capacities--some relatively minor cases and some very high-profile murder cases. A large group of Administrative Files is comprised of a mix of subject files, speeches and reports, event and activity ephemera, interviews, and other papers that are not official court documents.


The collection is organized into thirteen series, closely based on its original organization at the time of its donation to USC. Within each series, the files are arranged in their original order which varies from series to series. For example, most of the case files are arranged alphabetically according to the last name of the defendant; however the En Banc case files (1980-1992) are arranged in order of case number, or roughly chronologically. The rather large and varied Administrative Files series was kept in the original donation order, as this group of boxes was clearly labeled "Admin. Files--1 of 16, 2 of 16, etc."

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Sandra Alarcón and the office of Judge Arthur L. Alarcón, June 25, 2015.

Processing Note

This collection was processed with the assistance of Shreya Sudhir Wagle and Jeet Mody.

Finding Aid of the Arthur Alarcón papers
Jacqueline Morin
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • 2021 April: Finding aid updated by Bo Doub: created a new container record (under "Unprocessed material") using container lists from a collections move managed by Backstage Library Works.

Repository Details

Part of the USC Libraries Special Collections Repository

Doheny Memorial Library 206
3550 Trousdale Parkway
Los Angeles California 90089-0189 United States