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Leondra Kruger has the stand-out resume President Joe Biden might be looking for to fill Justice Stephen Breyer’s seat on the Supreme Court. And she has already had a barrier-breaking career.
She is also praised as a consensus builder and known for her problem-solving style, someone who could potentially serve as mediator on the increasingly divided U.S. Supreme Court.
— In 1993, Kruger graduated from Polytechnic School in Pasadena, Calif., as a National Merit Scholarship winner.
— In 1997, she received her bachelor's degree from Harvard University, where she was a reporter for the Harvard Crimson, covering everything from affirmative action to politics.
— Kruger received her J.D. from Yale Law School in 2001. She was the first Black woman to serve as editor in chief of the Yale Law Journal.
Before the bench
— While at Yale, Kruger had internships with the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles and worked as a summer associate at Munger, Tolles & Olson.
— In 2001-2002, Kruger worked as an associate at Jenner & Block in Washington, D.C.
— In 2002-2003, she clerked for Judge David Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
— In 2003-2004, after being recommended by Tatel, Kruger clerked for Justice John Paul Stevens.
— From 2004 to 2006, she went into private practice, working with high-profile clients including Shell Oil and Verizon. She left the firm, now known as WilmerHale, to teach at the University of Chicago Law School.
— From 2007 to 2013, Kruger returned to Washington to work in the Solicitor General’s Office, where she argued a dozen cases before the Supreme Court, more than any Black woman in history. She served as assistant to the solicitor general before being named acting principal deputy solicitor general in 2010.
— In 2013, Kruger left the office to serve as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel, where part of her job included providing legal advice to the president and federal agencies.
— In 2014, her work in Washington caught the eye of then-California Gov. Jerry Brown, who nominated Kruger to the state’s Supreme Court. Despite California critics questioning her lack of experience as a judge, Kruger was quickly confirmed in 2014 by a special three-member commission, which included the state attorney general at the time, Kamala Harris.
—Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC: In 2012, during her time in the Solicitor General’s Office, Kruger was called upon to argue the high-profile Hosanna-Tabor case, which spurred accusations that the Obama administration was hostile toward religious freedom. Kruger faced intense questioning, as she argued that First Amendment protections of religion did not apply to a church school’s firing of a teacher who held ministerial duties. The government lost 9-0, in an argument Donald Verrilli, who was then the solicitor general, says was his decision — one he now regrets,according to The New York Times, adding that the argument was “tone deaf on issues of religious liberty.”
—People v. Buza: In 2018, in a 4-3 vote joined by the California Supreme Court’s Republican appointees, Kruger relied on U.S. Supreme Court precedent and ruled that a DNA sample was legitimately taken from a felony suspect, before the accused was charged in court. The opinion evoked a strong response from other liberals on the bench, in which dissenters called it an unconstitutional “biological dragnet.” Defenders argue that by narrowly ruling in this particular case, and deliberately leaving the larger constitutional question open, Kruger prevented the U.S. Supreme Court from then overturning the ruling.
— Kruger has participated in a number of other notable rulings, including a large number of criminal cases. In the 2018 case Nat'l Shooting Sports Found., Inc. v. State, she joined a unanimous decision to uphold a state law that required new handgun models to include a marker inside of guns and on shell casings to help police identify weapons. Last year, she wrote an opinion for the unanimous court that allowed a death row inmate, who claimed racial discrimination during jury selection, to review a prosecutor’s notes. Kruger also authored another unanimous opinion in 2019, which gave defendants appealing misdemeanor charges the right to an attorney.
Supporters and opponents
— Biden evidently holds Kruger in high regard, having asked her to serve as solicitor general in his administration — a job she turned down. One downside for Kruger is that she hasn’t been through a Senate confirmation process like other top candidates, including Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.
— If the president decides he wants a moderate candidate who could garner some Republican support, Kruger might be his pick. As a San Francisco Chronicle headline put it in early February, “When California’s Supreme Court splits, potential Biden nominee Leondra Kruger often ends up in the middle.”
— Kruger likely won’t please progressives, given she has less professional diversity than other candidates who have experience working as public defenders or as civil rights lawyers.
— Kruger met her husband, Brian Hauck, now a partner at Jenner & Block, when they worked as summer associates in Washington. Their two children attend public school in Oakland, Calif.
— Her son was a toddler when she was appointed to California’s highest court, and in 2016 she had her daughter — making her the first person to give birth while on the court. A month after her daughter was born, she flew to Los Angeles to preside over hearings, leaving her child with her mother-in-law in the chambers during arguments.
— Co-workers and friends know Kruger for her laugh and her humble nature — someone who isn’t fancy, according to The New York Times. Colleagues from college describe a “chill” and “measured” person, a homebody who liked to watch reality TV in her free time. Her measured personality translates to the courtroom, with Kruger often exuding a quiet confidence.