A “Mind-blower” of a Nominee
For judicial appointments, Jerry Brown values diversity over experience.
Once upon a time, Americans held seasoned judges and legal practitioners in esteem. Lewis Powell, Henry Friendly, Louis Brandeis, and Charles Evan Hughes were all accomplished lawyers in private practice before they served on the bench. Representing clients in the real world tends to instill an appreciation for the rule of law. Today, by contrast, a Yale law degree, a prominent post in a Democratic presidential administration, and a desire to place one’s hands on the levers of judicial power are the tickets to a seat on the California Supreme Court. Governor Jerry Brown’s choice of 38-year-old Leondra Kruger to replace veteran jurist Joyce Kennard reinforces the trend. Kruger has never practiced law in the Golden State.
California law is vast and complex, and the state Supreme Court is its final arbiter. Unlike Kennard, who served at every level of the judiciary before being elevated to the Supreme Court in 1989, Kruger has never donned the black robe. As with Brown’s two prior appointments to the court, fellow Yale law grads Goodwin Liu and Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, Kruger lacks private-sector legal experience, too. Presumably, she will learn on the job.
Kruger’s nomination is remarkable for other reasons. If confirmed by the state’s Commission on Judicial Appointments, she would be the youngest person ever appointed to the state’s highest court. She barely meets the state constitutional requirement that judges be members of the state bar for at least ten years. Referring to Kruger’s youth and inexperience, law professor and commentator Gerald Uelman called her appointment a “mind-blower.” And not that anything is wrong with Yale, but couldn’t the governor have found a qualified nominee from Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, or some other California law school?
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