Which could bring Leondra Kruger, a potential nominee, to the Supreme Court

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But even in defeat, colleagues recalled, she showed remarkable composure.

When asked to represent a high-profile 2012 case that exposed the Obama administration to accusations of, for example, being hostile to religious freedom, she faced nearly 30 murderous minutes of rapid-fire plenary hearings.

The case, involving a Lutheran church, Hosanna-Tabor, which fired one of its teachers after she violated church prohibitions on suing over workplace matters, put a federal rule allowing churches to Make personnel decisions without government interference.

Ms Kruger, then a 35-year-old civil servant, was still finishing her opening remarks, arguing that the teacher should not have been fired when Judge John Roberts pushed her into the government’s position and sparked the attack.

“Leondra took some of the heat for this, but it was my choice,” said Donald B. Verrilli, who was then the attorney general. He said he now regrets the government’s stance on the case, which he described as unmusical on religious freedom issues.

When a series of job postings on the California Supreme Court gave then-Governor Brown an opportunity to redesign it, her criticisms were rave, from Mr. Brown’s Yale Law School alumni to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan said he.

“We started talking, and within 10 or 15 minutes I was pretty sure I was going to appoint her,” Mr. Brown recalled in an interview from his home in rural California, citing her “elegant” mindset. “I wanted people who could not just make a decision, but place it within the longer intellectual tradition of law — the broader, the broader.”

His youth doesn’t bother him, he said: “Big people are conspicuous and unusual if you have the eyes to see it.” How the tightly divided Senate might see Judge Kruger is another question, the governor noted.

“I don’t know if any of that matters,” said Mr. Brown. “Won’t it just be politics?”

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