Leondra Reid Kruger, a California Supreme Court Justice who is from Glendale but grew up in part in South Pasadena, is once again among a short list of prospective names being circulated as a possible replacement for Supreme Court Justice William Breyer, who’s formal retirement announcement is expected this week.
Kruger, 45, fits the bill the former had Vice President laid out at the last Democratic debate, where he promised to put an African-American female on the Court.
At 16, while still living in South Pasadena and having edited the school paper (The “Paw Print”) and served as co-president of the Ecology Club, Kruger graduated from Pasadena’s Polytechnic School as a Presidential Scholar and won a $2,000 National Merit Scholarship. She’d also volunteered at Hillside Home for Children and tutored music at Willard Elementary School. Kruger was also a volunteer for Bill Clinton’s Presidential campaign.
“Yes I’m excited” about the Merit Award, she told local columnist Shirlee Smith “with a lot of humility and without a trace of ‘I-really-deserve-it.’”
In the brief profile Smith wrote, she noted that the bright 16-year-old was now heading for a visit with President Clinton for the scholarship ceremony. “And then she is off to Harvard University! What next?”
Next was an undergraduate degree from Harvard, where she wrote for The Crimson, and a law degree from Yale Law School, where she edited the Yale Law Journal.
Kruger is the daughter of two pediatricians, including Dr. Audrey Kruger, who was a model for Kruger’s modesty according to Smith, who knew the young woman as a child. She was “a reserved, polite and ladylike little 8-year-old.”
Kruger was a Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, served as an Assistant to the Solicitor General and as an Acting Principal Deputy for six years, during which she argued 12 cases before the US Supreme Court on behalf of the federal government, including a first impression church-state case in which she riled several Justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, who pressed her to take a position on whether the Constitution mandates special protections for religious institutions. Kruger said churches and church schools have no “categorical” protection, but that churches should prevail in cases involving ministers but the church employees should be protected from civil claims.
Kruger has served on the state Supreme Court since early 2015, having been appointed by former Gov. Jerry Brown and confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments, whose three members at the time included Attorney General and former presidential candidate Kamala Harris. She was the second African American woman on the state’s highest court.
In February 2000, Kruger wrote an opinion that vacated the conviction of Kenneth Earl Gay, who was convicted for the 1983 murder of LAPD officer Paul Verna, citing inadequate counsel.
She was a visiting assistant professor at the University of Chicago Law School in 2007 and from 2004 to 2006 was an associate at Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr LLP. Kruger also served as a law clerk to US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens for the 2003 term and to Judge David S. Tatel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit for the 2002 term. She was an associate at Jenner and Block LLP from 2001 to 2002.
Leondra late father was Leon Kruger MD, a South Pasadenan and pediatrician who also went to Harvard and got his MD from Boston University in 1951. He flew B-24 aircraft during World War II and ran in the Boston Marathon. Her mother, Dr. Audrey Y. Reid, also a pediatrician, studied at Howard University. She studied infection disease at LAUSC Medical Center, has a master’s in Public Health from UCLA and has worked at Huntington Plaza Pediatrics in Pasadena.