Gov. Jerry Brown's third nominee to the state Supreme Court this term was confirmed Monday, likely tilting the conservative-leaning court further to the left.
The three-member Commission on Judicial Appointments voted unanimously in favor of Leondra Kruger at a hearing in San Francisco. Kruger, 38, is a Yale University law school graduate who by all accounts is a rising star in the legal profession. But critics have pointed out that she has never served as a judge and has spent most of her legal career outside California, although she grew up in the state.
Kruger responded to the criticism at the hearing, saying her career had exposed her to a wide variety of legal issues and she hoped to draw on the expertise of her colleagues on the court for any questions about California law.
"It is both a personal and professional delight to come back home," she said.
No one spoke in opposition to Kruger's nomination at the hearing, which was open to the public.
Attorneys who worked with Kruger during her years at the U.S. Department of Justice praised her as someone who was neutral and objective, and sensitive to the people she was serving. Kruger has argued 12 cases on behalf of the federal government before the U.S. Supreme Court. She has also served as a law professor.
"She listens, she thinks, she listens, she thinks, she listens some more," said Benjamin Horwich, a former assistant to the solicitor general, describing Kruger's approach to cases.
Thomas Lue, former acting general counsel at the White House Office of Management and Budget, said in Kruger's role at the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel, she had to decide which legal decision was right. She understood the difference between being an advocate and being in a judicial role, he said.
"She was every bit as good as her stellar reputation," Lue said.
A State Bar of California committee that evaluated Kruger for the judicial commission gave her its highest rating of "exceptionally well-qualified," noting praise for her "intellectual firepower, written and oral advocacy skills, impeccable judgment, her fairness, diplomacy and her composure under pressure."
Brown has been making his mark on the court. He previously nominated Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, 42, a Mexican-born Stanford law professor, to be an associate justice. In 2011, he appointed University of California, Berkeley, law professor Goodwin Liu, 44, after Republicans in the U.S. Senate blocked his nomination to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The high court position for which Kruger was nominated pays $225,342 a year. Kruger will be replacing Associate Justice Joyce Kennard, who retired.
California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, state Attorney General Kamala Harris and Senior Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein of the 2nd District Court of Appeal in California were the commission members who considered Kruger's nomination.
This story has been updated.