Skip To Content
We’ve Taken Down the Forward Paywall: An Open Letter to Our ReadersRead Now
Fast Forward

Leondra Kruger, a possible Supreme Court nominee, has Black and Jewish roots

One of the leading contenders to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer could be a demographic two-fer.

Breyer, who announced Wednesday he was stepping down from the bench, was one of a handful of Jewish Americans on the Court. President Joe Biden has said he is committed to appointing the Court’s first Black female justice.

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of California Leondra Kruger, one of the top candidates for the seat, fits all three categories.

Kruger, 46, is the daughter of a Jamaican immigrant mother and a Jewish father.

She credited her late father, the son of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, and her mother, a physician, with teaching her the value of service.

“I learned through her example of reaching out to people from all walks of life that what unites us is far more important than anything that might divide us,” Kruger told the Sacramento Bee in 2014. “Because of her I was raised with the belief that anything is possible if you set your mind to it, but that with great opportunities comes great responsibilities to contribute and to be of service to others.”

Leondra Kruger

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of California Leondra Kruger Courtesy of wikimedia

Born in Los Angeles, Kruger was raised in South Pasadena and attended the elite Polytechnic High, where, according to fellow classmate and journalist Joe Matthews, the children of ambitious immigrants mixed with Pasadena’s old line Caucasian elite.

“Leondra,” wrote Matthews in a column for Zocalo last October, “was as cool and calm as Jim was hot and polarizing. Young for her class, she could be funny and gossipy with friends, but chose her words with great care, which made you listen more closely. Leondra was deeply interested in the world outside Poly’s cloistered gates.”

Kruger graduated from Harvard University magna cum laude, then received her law degree from Yale Law, where she was the first Black woman editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal.

In 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown appointed of Kruger to the California Supreme Court. Becoming the court’s second African-American woman justice and its youngest appointee.

If appointed to replace Breyer, Kruger will become the fifth justice of Jewish heritage to hold the seat Breyer held over the past 100 years, following Benjamin Cardozo, Felix Frankfurter, Arthur Goldberg and Abe Fortas. Breyer’s retirement leaves one Jewish justice, Elena Kagan, following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Among the notable cases Kruger ruled on was a 2019 decision unanimously overturning a white supremacist’s death sentence, finding that prosecutors unfairly presented evidence that the perpetrator had multiple swastika tattoos.

“The prosecutor openly and repeatedly invited the jury to do precisely what the law does not allow: to weigh the offensive and reprehensible nature of defendant’s abstract beliefs in determining whether to impose the death penalty,” Kruger wrote.


Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.