SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A state panel on Monday confirmed another California Supreme Court appointment by Gov. Jerry Brown — a move that likely tilts the conservative-leaning court further to the left.
Leondra Kruger, 38, a deputy assistant U.S. attorney general, won unanimous approval by the three-member Commission on Judicial Appointments.
The confirmation of Kruger, who is black, brings down the court's average age and will give California one black, one Hispanic and three Asian justices. Four women will be on the panel.
Kruger is a Yale University law school graduate who appears to be a rising star in the legal profession. Critics, however, have pointed out that she has never served as a judge and has spent most of her legal career outside California, although she is a native of Los Angeles area.
Kruger responded to the criticism at her appointment 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 regarding any questions about California law.
"It is both a personal and professional delight to come back home," she said.
No one spoke in opposition of the nomination at the public hearing.
Attorneys who worked with Kruger during her years at the U.S. Department of Justice praised her as someone who was neutral, objective and sensitive to the people she served. Kruger has argued 12 cases on behalf of the federal government before the U.S. Supreme Court and also has 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.
In her role at the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel, Kruger had to decide which legal decision was right, said Thomas Lue, former acting general counsel at the White House Office of Management and Budget.
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 after it was dominated for years by appointees of former Republican Govs. George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson.
Earlier in his current term, Brown 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.
With Kruger and Cuellar, the court will have three justices appointed by a Democrat and four by Republicans.
The high court position for which Kruger was nominated pays $225,342 a year. She 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.