The California Supreme Court, often cited as the most influential state supreme court in the country for its historic stances on issues like interracial and same-sex marriages, has just seen the most recent in a series of head-turning nominations from Governor Jerry Brown. This past Monday, Leondra R. Kruger, who is currently the associate attorney general, was confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments.
Brown's most recent round of unconventional nominations began in 2011 with Goodwin Liu, a Berkeley law professor selected by Brown three days after a Republican filibuster caused President Obama to withdraw his nomination for the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
And, before Kruger's nomination, Brown nominated Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, a law professor at Stanford who served in the Obama and Clinton administrations.
The New York Times is drawing attention to these three nominees, whom Brown selected with assistance from two unnamed SCOTUS Justices, for a few commonalities.
Liu, Cuéllar, and Kruger are all under the age of 45 (Kruger is just 38, making her the youngest member of the court in nearly a hundred years). All three are Yale Law School graduates, as is Brown himself. He's quoted as saying “Yale is pretty good."
Further, they're all people of color: Liu is the child of Taiwanese parents, Kruger is the first African-American to serve on the court since 2005, and Cuéllar was born in Mexico.
But last and most controversial, not one of the three has had a day of judicial experience. That's drawn comparisons to Brown's choice during his first term as Governor of Rose Bird to lead the court as chief justice. Bird, who had also never served as a judge, was recalled by voters in 1986. "Obviously I know more about how the court works and what the reactions are of people to the court," Brown told the Times. "Hopefully I don’t repeat history.”
Willie Brown, among others, has been critical of the choices to bring in non-Californians and non-judges, as he opined in the Chronicle's Willie's World. "Were there no qualified African Americans in California?" he wrote. "Just asking."
But far more Californians are optimistic about Kruger and the court. "Governor Brown is interested in very high quality, and I think he’s achieved that,” said Joseph R. Grodin to the Times, another Brown appointee cast out in the Bird recall. “I have very high expectations and some degree of excitement over where the California Supreme Court may be headed.” The Times also cites legal scholars who think that these appointments will push the court further to the left.
Says David S. Ettinger, a lawyer whose blog covers the California Supreme Court: "The court is well poised to really make a mark... and I think that is what Governor Brown is looking for: leaving a legacy that will restore the luster of the Supreme Court he knew when he clerked for the court.”
Brown also had an eventful Christmas eve, pardoning 105 convicted criminals as CBS 5 reports. The clemency was extended mostly for drug-related offenses but also to a small number of people convicted of violent crimes. Brown did retract one pardon to a man just hours later after learning the man had not disclosed recent discipline by financial regulators.