LOS ANGELES ( Associated Press) — When Leondra Kruger Settling into her new chambers on the California Supreme Court seven years ago, she asked her top assistant to place the report of the US Supreme Court on the shelf behind her desk.
It was an unusual request for a state court that doesn’t often deal with federal law cases, but Kruger wanted the judges’ latest rulings nearby, said attorney Greg Wolff, the former chief of his chambers.
“She just wanted them within reach,” Wolff said. “I think the US Supreme Court is his first love.”
Kruger himself, an associate justice on the California Supreme Court, may be within reach of a seat on the nation’s highest court. She is one of several black women – judges and lawyers – whose names are being circulated by President Joe Biden as a possible choice to replace retired Justice Stephen Breyer.
Kruger, 45, is admired by colleagues and supervisors for his acumen, complacency and skill building consensus.
“She has the ability to persuade judges who are coming from a very different place than her,” said retired California Court of Appeals Justice J.J. Anthony Cline said. “People listen to him. He’s not bombastic. He’s not confrontational. He’s not overly ideological. But he’s very analytical. He is very committed to the law.”
Kruger was a law clerk to the late US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens in 2003–04, worked at two law firms, taught law for a year and then worked for several years at the US Department of Justice before becoming a judge.
“I don’t know how you match those skills. That, to me, is remarkable,” said California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakau.
Kruger grew up in South Pasadena, a leafy upper-middle-class suburb close to downtown Los Angeles, the daughter of two pediatricians. Her mother is Jamaican and her late father was Jewish. He graduated with honors from Harvard, where he wrote for the school’s newspaper, The Harvard Crimson. She received a law degree from Yale, where she was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal.
In the office of the U.S. Solicitor General, the government’s top Supreme Court attorney, Kruger debated a dozen cases during the Bush and Obama administrations.
At the age of 38, he was elected by the then government. Jerry Brown will serve on the High Court of California. At the time, the only criticism of her appointment was that she was not a judge or spent much time as an attorney in California, although no one spoke in opposition at public hearings.
Kruger, who had a young son, was the youngest justice to serve on the court and only the second black woman. Shortly after the birth of his daughter, Kruger was back at work. Cantil-Sakauye said she was shocked — and delighted — when she stepped onto an elevator in the court’s Los Angeles location to see Kruger in a stroller with her baby.
“He didn’t miss a beat,” Cantil-Sakau said. “I don’t remember her taking any time off.”
Kruger is seen as a moderate in the seven-member court.
In 2019, Kruger wrote a 4-3 opinion, signed by other Democrat-appointed judges, that found that if a driver is pulled over and he doesn’t produce a license, the police can do so without a warrant. Vehicles cannot be searched for personal identification.
In a case that challenged the constitutionality of a voter-approved law that required DNA samples to be taken from suspects arrested for felonies, Kruger wrote a 4-3 opinion supported by three judges appointed by then-Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The scope of her decision was limited, finding that a suspect – who was later convicted of arson – had been properly convicted of a misdemeanor for refusing to provide his DNA sample upon his arrest.
He sidestepped the constitutional question, which he said was better left to a case with differing circumstances.
“We accordingly adhere to the ‘core principle of judicial restraint’ – if it is not necessary to make more decisions, then it is not necessary to make more decisions,” she wrote.
Kline, whose decision he overturned in that case, said opinion is often viewed in two different ways.
“Some people on the left see him as insufficiently progressive,” he said. “But there were others who pointed to his opinion (in the case) by showing that he was a moderate. He is an enhancementist. ,
McGorge School of Law professor Leslie Jacobs said Kruger’s decisions may seem politically unpredictable because she doesn’t always favor Democrats, but she continues to maintain her independence.
“The ideal is that they are going to do the job of explaining and distancing themselves from politics,” Jacobs said.
It could appeal to the Republican senators Biden hopes to win. US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has warned against appointing anyone from “radical” leftists.
“The things I’m describing are the opposite of radical,” Jacobs said. “They’re careful and limited in scope, you know, in a variety of decisions.”
David Ettinger, an appellate attorney with four decades of experience who blogs about the California Supreme Court, described Kruger as conservative with his use of judicial power with the goal of stability and stability.
During the debate, “she is asking questions to get answers, not to showboat, not to make a political statement,” Ettinger said.
Speaking at a 2020 San Francisco Bar Association panel on Stevens’ legacy, Kruger said that she often reflected on the simple advice she gave to a group of former clerks who were a year ahead of their 99th and final birthday. Were gathered before: “Always work hard and do your best.”
He worked as hard as he could in the service of the public for 35 years to provide fair and unbiased justice, and he always gave his best, he said. “It may be our only remaining hope that we are as successful in that endeavor as he was in that effort.”
Kline, who is a friend of Kruger’s, said he’s not sure how interested he is in following in Stevens’ footsteps. She has a large family in California, her husband works at a law firm in San Francisco, and they have two young children and a home they love.
Kruger told him that he twice turned down offers to be nominated for solicitor general.
A media spokeswoman has been working with Kruger as his name was released as a potential Breyer replacement. Kruger declined an interview request for this story but sat down to take photos Thursday.
Wolff, who has worked with him for four years, thinks Kruger’s dream is to get justice in the country’s highest court. But Kline said some people wonder if that’s the case.
He said lawyers aggressively press for judicial posts and this is not their style.
“What I do know is that she’s not lobbying for the job too much,” Kline said.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Kruger spoke on a panel about the late Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, not in 2000, but in 2020.