But even in defeat, her colleagues remember, she showed remarkable composure.
Called to litigate a high-profile case in 2012 that opened the Obama administration to accusations that it was hostile to religious freedom, for example, she faced nearly 30 minutes of rapid interrogations from the whole court.
The case, involving a Lutheran church, Hosanna-Tabor, which fired one of its teachers after violating church prohibitions against labor suits, tested a federal rule that allows churches to take personal decisions without government interference.
Ms Kruger, then a 35-year-old career civil servant, was still finishing her opening remarks, arguing the teacher should not have been fired, when Judge John Roberts pressed her on the government’s position, sparking the assault.
“Leondra took some of the heat for this, but it was my decision,” said Donald B. Verrilli, who was then solicitor general. He said he now regrets the government’s stance on the matter, which he called tone-deaf on issues of religious liberty.
When a cluster of vacancies on the California Supreme Court gave then-Governor Brown the opportunity to do it again, his reviews were rave reviews, from Mr. Brown’s Yale Law School alumni to the Justice of U.S. Supreme Court Elena Kagan, he said.
“We started talking, and within 10 or 15 minutes I was pretty sure I was going to name her,” Mr Brown recalled in an interview from his home in rural California, citing his “elegant” thought. . “I wanted people who couldn’t just make a decision, but put it in the longer intellectual tradition of law – the wider sweep, the wider view.”
His youth was of no concern to him, he said, “Higher people are noticeable and unusual if you have the eyes to see it.” How the narrowly divided Senate might view Judge Kruger, however, is another question, the governor noted.
“I don’t know if any of this matters,” Brown said. “Won’t that just be politics?”