SACRAMENTO (AP) — In his effort to diversify the judicial branch, Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday nominated a deputy assistant U.S. attorney general to fill a vacant seat on the California Supreme Court.
The governor selected Leondra Kruger, a 38-year-old Los Angeles native, to replace Associate Justice Joyce Kennard, who retired earlier this year.
If approved, Kruger would become the second African-American woman to serve on the high court.
"Leondra Kruger is a distinguished lawyer and uncommon student of the law," the Democratic governor said in announcing the nomination. "She has won the respect of eminent jurists, scholars and practitioners alike."
It's Brown's third appointment to the court this term.
Earlier this year, he nominated Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, 42, a Mexican-born Stanford law professor to be an associate justice on the seven-member court. 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.
Kruger serves in the legal counsel office of the U.S. Department of Justice. Previously, she was acting principal deputy to the solicitor general and argued 12 cases on behalf of the federal government before the U.S. Supreme Court.
"I am deeply honored by Gov. Brown's nomination," Kruger said in a statement provided by the governor's office. "I look forward to returning home to California and, if confirmed, serving the people of California on our state's highest court."
Kruger is a Democrat but that was not a consideration in her nomination, Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said.
It was a surprising choice but one that will enhance California's stature through its diversity, said Gerald Uelmen, a Santa Clara University law school professor. If approved, Kruger will further bring down the court's average age and California will have one black, one Hispanic and three Asian justices. Four women will serve.
It's also Brown's third selection of someone without prior judicial experience and will likely continue to tilt the conservative-leaning court to the left, he said.
"The only thing missing is some California background," Uelmen said of Kruger. "I guess she grew up in L.A. but has never practiced in California and really has been out of state for the last 20 years really."
She worked briefly as an intern at the U.S. Attorney's Office Central District of California in 1999 and as a summer associate at Munger, Tolles & Olson in 2000.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said he will miss working with Kruger. He said she will be an excellent and thoughtful Supreme Court justice.
Kruger graduated from Yale Law School, where she was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal. She earned her bachelor's degree from Harvard University, where she graduated magna cum laude and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
Kruger's nomination will be submitted to the state bar's commission on judicial nominees and must be confirmed by the state Commission on Judicial Appointments, comprised of the state Supreme Court chief justice, the state attorney general and the presiding justice of the California Court of Appeal.
The high court position pays $225,342 a year.
Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, who serves as chairwoman of the California Legislative Black Caucus, thanked Brown for the appointment.
"As a caucus, we applaud Gov. Jerry Brown for his selection and appreciate his hearkening to our continuous request for more African Americans to be appointed to the California judicial system," Mitchell said.
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