U.S. Senate confirms Jane Kelly to 8th Circuit Court of Appeals

Kelly will be only second woman to serve on court

Trish Mehaffey
Published: April 24 2013 | 11:21 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 2:26 pm in

Assistant Federal Public Defender Jane Kelly was confirmed Wednesday by the U.S. Senate as an Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals judge.

The Senate voted 96-0 to confirm Kelly as only the second woman, and the first public defender, to serve in the history of the court that was established in 1891.

No one opposed Kelly's nomination, which moved through the process fairly quickly with joint support of both Iowa Senators Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley.

“Ms. Kelly’s nomination moved so quickly as a result of the support of my senior colleague from Iowa, Sen. Grassley,” Harkin said in a statement after the vote. “I thank him for his invaluable support and assistance.  For many years, Sen. Grassley and I have cooperated in a spirit of goodwill on judicial nominations in our state, and I am grateful that this tradition has continued.  I would also be remiss if I did not thank Sen. Leahy and his staff for their hard work in advancing Ms. Kelly’s nomination in such a timely manner.”

On the Senate floor, Harkin said Kelly possessed all the qualifications of an appellate judge, and he recommended her to the president because her intellect and character stood out.

"She is a credit to all of us who have chosen public service," Harkin said. "She has served as a public defender for more than 20 years. She could have worked for any private firm but she chose public service."

Harkin said it seemed appropriate this year that Kelly was nominated in light of the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the landmark case that required states to provide legal counsel to those who cannot afford to pay for an attorney.

On the Senate floor, Grassley said Kelly was committed to upholding the Constitution and has the unanimous rating from the American Bar Association of being a qualified judicial nominee. He cited 8th Circuit Senior Judge David Hansen, who said Kelly was "a forthright woman with high integrity."

The Iowa Fair Courts Coalition said in a statement that Kelly's experience as a public defender and her perspective as a woman will bring valuable diversity to the bench to benefit all people.

The coalition in the statement also said while it applauds this progress, there remains qualified judges being held up in the Senate and asked senators to "stand up for justice, end obstruction for obstruction’s sake, and swiftly confirm qualified judicial nominees, including those nominated to fill vacancies on the D.C. Circuit Court."

The Iowa Fair Courts Coalition includes: One Iowa, Americans for Democratic Action, Working Families Win, the Iowa Citizen Action Network, and the League of United Latin American Citizens.

Kelly didn't return a phone message left after her confirmation.

During a February interview with The Gazette, several of Kelly's colleagues and friends also voiced their support for her, saying her demeanor and sense of fairness would make her an ideal appeals judge.

U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose said that Kelly had a great blend of "personality,  skills and common sense to make a great lawyer and a judge."

In the same interview, 6th Judicial District Associate Judge Casey Jones said Kelly had been a mentor to him and "is one of the most brilliant people I've ever met."

University of Richmond School of Law Professor Carl Tobias, a judiciary analyst, said Kelly's confirmation process was the quickest of Obama's 45 appellate nominees.

"I think that it went so smoothly because she was a well qualified consensus nominee and the two Iowa senators worked cooperatively to have her nominated and confirmed," Tobias, of Richmond, Va., said after the confirmation. "Her appointment is a great example of how well the process can work when senators cooperate and the nominee is excellent."

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee approved Kelly last month by a bipartisan voice vote after Kelly was formally nominated by President Obama Jan. 31.

Kelly has been an assistant public defender in the Northern District since 1994 and supervising attorney in the Cedar Rapids office since 1999. She received her bachelor's degree 1987 from Duke University and her law degree in 1991 from Harvard Law School. After graduating from law school, Kelly clerked for U.S. District Judge Donald J. Porter of South Dakota and also clerked for Hansen.

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