As a former federal public defender – not a prosecutor, not a legal academic – she would bring some seriously needed perspective to the SCOTUS bench.
First: Jane Kelly was a public defender.
This is the Wikipedia scoop on Jane Kelly:
- Born in 1964 (Kelly would be a relatively young Justice)
- Graduated summa cum laude in 1987 from Duke University (which also happens to be founder Patrick Roberts‘s alma mater)
- J.D. from Harvard Law in 1991
- Served as a federal public defender from 1994 to 2013
- Nominated by President Obama in 2013 to serve as circuit judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
And, according to SCOTUSblog, in 2004 Kelly received the John Adams Award from the Iowa Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers for her commitment to her accused clients’ constitutional rights.
Kelly’s legal background as a public defender matters. So does her demonstrated commitment to constitutional rights for defendants. None of the current Supreme Court Justices has a background in criminal defense; many of them, in fact, prior to ascending to the SCOTUS bench, were prosecutors.
Second: Lawmakers will have a hard time denying a Kelly nomination.
If you’ve followed the news, you already know that Justice Antonin Scalia’s death – besides meaning the loss of one of the Court’s most famous and influential Justices – has led to a fierce debate among lawmakers.
One side argues that President Obama should wait until the next president takes office; the other argues that it’s Obama’s constitutional duty to nominate Scalia’s successor now. Either way, whoever assumes Scalia’s place on the bench may have the power to swing the Court to the left or to the right on important legal issues.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, current chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has significant power over the nomination process. At the same time, Grassley happens to be from Iowa, the same state that Kelly worked as a public defender, and at the time Obama nominated Kelly as federal circuit judge roughly three years ago, Grassley gave his “enthusiastic support,” according to SCOTUSblog.
It will be hard for Grassley to justify a refusal to allow Kelly’s nomination to go for a vote.