Gov. Jerry Brown announced Monday that he would nominate Leondra R. Kruger, a federal government lawyer, to the California Supreme Court.
Kruger, 38, who grew up in Pasadena, was admitted to the State Bar of California in 2002 but has not practiced law in the state since 2009, according to bar records. She has worked primarily in Washington, D.C., where she has represented the federal government in cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. She would be the only African American on the court.
Kruger is a deputy assistant attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel.
Santa Clara University law professor Gerald Uelmen, an expert on the state's highest court, called the appointment a "mind blower."
"She is the youngest appointee in history," Uelmen said. "She barely meets the constitutional qualifications ... She has never practiced law in California, and she hasn't been in California for the last 20 years, as far as I can see."
He said Kruger appeared to be "superstar" who had moved quickly up the legal ranks. "Maybe this is Jerry Brown's effort to give the California Supreme Court greater stature nationally," Uelmen said.
Brown said in a statement: "Leondra Kruger is a distinguished lawyer and uncommon student of the law. She has won the respect of eminent jurists, scholars and practitioners alike."
Kruger received her undergraduate degree from Harvard University and her law degree from Yale. She clerked for former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.
"I am deeply honored by Governor Brown's nomination," Kruger said in a news release issued by Brown's office. "I look forward to returning home to California and, if confirmed, serving the people of California on our state's highest court."
She would be Brown's third appointment in recent years to California's seven-member high court. Like Brown's two previous picks, both law professors, Kruger has no judicial experience.
Kruger would replace Justice Joyce L. Kennard, who retired in April.
Before moving to the attorney general's legal counsel office, Kruger was No. 2 in the office of solicitor general, which argues cases before the Supreme Court.
Former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal, who promoted Kruger to the No. 2 spot, described her as "super-smart, crazy well-prepared and the type of person who only cared about getting it right and not about getting in good with the boss."
He said few lawyers in the country have argued more cases before the Supreme Court than Kruger.
"Watching her at the U.S. Supreme Court was like watching a master who had done it hundreds of times," said Katyal, a law professor at Georgetown University. "It was breathtaking."
He said Brown's appointments to the state high court showed "a willingness to be a game changer."
"With Brown's last two appointments and now with Leondra coming on the court," Katyal said, "the California Supreme Court is looking like perhaps the most high-powered state Supreme Court in the country."
Kruger is married to another lawyer, and they had a baby about a year ago, Katyal said. He said she is close to her mother, who lives in Los Angeles County, and has long talked about wanting to return to California.