Leondra Kruger sailed through her nomination to the California Supreme Court Monday, winning unanimous approval from the three-person Commission on Judicial Appointments.
Kruger grew up in Southern California, but has spent most of her career in Washington, D.C. Kruger, 38, is a deputy assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice. She went to Yale Law School, and has spent time as a clerk for Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens and at the Office of the Solicitor General.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who is part of the appointing commission, listed a string of glowing recommendations that came from luminaries ranging from U.S. Supreme Court justices to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Then she posed this question to Kruger:
"I don't have any questions about your skills, but as a fellow native Californian who also lived in D.C., what most excited you about coming home?"
Kruger answered that her heart has always been in California and she praised the state's diversity.
"For me it is both a professional and a personal delight to have this opportunity to come back home," she said.
Although no one spoke in opposition to Kruger at the appointment hearing, some had been critical of her nomination because she has not served as a judge before. But Kruger said her time at the Department of Justice has been good preparation.
"I've gained a deep appreciation both for the importance of objectivity, of fair-mindedness, of openness in judging, and for the very practical effects that the courts' decision have," she told the commission.
Kruger will be the first African-American justice on the court since 2005. She's Gov. Jerry Brown's third nominee to the court since he took office in 2009.
Gerald Uelmen, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, said Kruger was a somewhat surprising pick because she has never practiced law in the state, but added that she is "abundantly qualified." He also said that Kruger, along with Brown's other two picks for the bench, could change the court's leaning.
"Up until now, we've had a very conservative court," he said. "I expect we'll see more of a judicial realism, a more pragmatic approach. And the court will move, I think it will move much more toward the center."
Brown will swear in Kruger on Jan. 5, along with Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, who was confirmed in August.
KQED's Mina Kim spoke with UC Hastings law Professor Rory Little about Kruger's confirmation. Listen to their conversation below.