Shirley M. Hufstedler, 54, the highest-ranking woman jurist in the United States, will be named to head the newly created Department of Education, according to sources.
The announcement will be made at 11:30 a.m. today, they said.
In recent weeks, the choice for secretary of the new department, which will have about 18,000 employes and an annual budget of $14 billion, reportedly had been narrowed t o Hufstedler and Alan Campbell, head of the U.S. Ofice of Personel Management.
Hufstedler is on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and lives in Pasadena, Calif. She was in Washington yesterday with her husband, Seth Hufstedler, a well-known West Coast attorney, for discussions with White House personnel and Vice President Mondale and a meeting with President Carter.
Hufstedler was born on Aug. 24, 1925, in Denver and received a bachelor of arts degree from the University of New Mexico. She attended Stanford law school, where she met her future husband, and was admitted to the California bar in 1950.
She practiced law for about 10 years, at first by herself and then with the same firm as her husband. Described by sources in California as a "moderate to liberal Democrat," she ws appointed in 1961 by Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, the father of the current governor of California, as a judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court. In 1966, Brown appointed her to the state appellate court.
Two years later, President Johnson named her to the 9th Circuit.
Seth Hufstedler headed the recent investigation of the state Supreme Court as counsel to the state judicial committee. The couple has one son, Steven, born in 1953.
Judge Hufstedler has been widely praised and has frequently been mentioned as a possible Supreme Court nominee.
In 1973, for example, a magazine poll of jurists reported that she rated very high with her colleagues in ability. "Her decisions are always extremely well written," one of those polled said.
In an interview at that time with Parade magazine, she described herself as "independent-minded." I'm not a political creature," she said. "I've been called moderately liberal, but I dislike labels." She said she had "participated in the women's rights renaissance all my life." Associates said she has long had a special interest in education.
In article headlined "What the Courts Cannot Do," which appeared in The Washington Post on Jan. 1, 1978, Hufstedler said there had been and "explosion of litigation" in which people expected the courts to handle every personal and social problem, which they obviously can't do -- not only because the scope of social problems is too large but also because the courts don't have a huge army of personnel to see that the social intentions of their decrees are carried out.
"We now expect courts to end racial tensions, sweep contaminants from the globe and bring about an armistice in the battle of the sexes. We expect courts to assure us of a right to be born and a right to die. We insist that courts protect our privacy, shield us from public wrong and private temptation, penalize us for our transgressions and restrain those who would transgress against us."
She continued, "Americans have expectations about what the courts can do that cannot be fulfilled. Courts are primarily deciders, not supervisors or social problem solvers.
"Judges know, for instance, that when they decide that a school system must be integrated, they are not 'solving' racial hatreds; when judges grant divorces, they are not 'solving' martrimonial problems. Evils do not vanish with the wave of a court decree."
Hufstedler could not be reached last night for comment on her impending nomination. A hotel clerk here reported that the Hufstedlers had checked out.
Arthur S. Miller, professor emeritus of law at George Washington University who knew both Hufstedlers at Stanford, described Judge Hufstedler yesterday as very bright, able" and "a very fine judge." Miller, in a telephone interview, said Hufstedler is probably "much more politically conservative than some people think."
He said every opinion of hers that he had seen was a "workmanlike job."
A friend here said the Hufstedlers made a walking tour of Nepal, warming up first by walking the Pacific Crest Trail, which is similar to the East Coast's Appalachian Trail.