Following a brief, friendly hearing in San Francisco, Leondra Kruger was unanimously confirmed to the California Supreme Court on Monday, becoming the first African-American justice on the bench in nearly a decade.
Kruger’s nomination, the third of Gov. Jerry Brown’s first term, had drawn some objections over her longtime residence outside the state and her lack of experience on the bench. But those criticisms were only barely raised during the 35-minute hearing, where witnesses and members of the three-member confirmation panel praised Kruger, an Obama administration attorney, for her intelligence and professional accomplishments.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who oversaw the hearing, called Kruger’s qualifications “truly stellar” and gave her an opportunity to defend her lack of judicial or California legal experience.
“Over the course of my career, I’ve had the great good fortune to have a series of jobs that’s given me exposure to a wide variety of subject matters,” Kruger said, noting she might deal with questions of civil rights and California vessel-fuel regulation in the same day during her time in the U.S. Department of Justice.
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“Coming to this court, I would be coming to serve with a group of individuals who collectively have an enormous wealth of experience trying and adjudicating cases under California law,” she added. “I would hope to be able to draw on their expertise as I do my own work, and at the same time, would hope that the experiences I have and my unique background would bring a perspective that would add to that chorus of voices.”
Kruger, 38, was previously an assistant to the U.S. solicitor general and acting principal deputy solicitor general at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. She argued cases for the federal government before the U.S. Supreme Court, including matters of immigration, and church and state. Kruger, who was born in the Los Angeles area, was a visiting assistant professor at the University of Chicago Law School in 2007 and clerked for Justice John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court.
During her testimony, Kruger introduced her family – both those who were able to attend the hearing and those who were not – including her husband, Brian, a fellow lawyer, and 2-year-old son.
She credited her late father, the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, and especially her mother, who moved to the United States from Jamaica to become a doctor, for teaching her the value of public service.
“I learned through her example of reaching out to people from all walks of life that what unites us is far more important than anything that might divide us,” Kruger said. “Because of her I was raised with the belief that anything is possible if you set your mind to it, but that with great opportunities comes great responsibilities to contribute and to be of service to others.”
When Attorney General Kamala Harris asked Kruger, who has not lived in California in more than a decade, what most excited her about returning to the state, Kruger said it would be “both a professional and a personal delight.”
“My heart has always been in California,” Kruger said. “It’s where I learned the values that made me who I am today.”
Appellate Justice Joan Dempsey Klein merely thanked Kruger for her “willingness to serve.”
As Cantil-Sakauye began to ask for all those in favor of confirmation, Harris and Dempsey Klein both jumped in with a quick “aye” vote.
“I guess I don’t even need to finish the rest of the sentence,” Cantil-Sakauye said, before welcoming Kruger to the court.
Call The Bee’s Alexei Koseff, (916) 321-5236. Follow him on Twitter @akoseff.