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President Barack Obama has Nominated Iowa Federal Public Defender Jane Kelly to the United States 8th Circuit Court of Appeals

published February 04, 2013

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Jane Kelly
Jane Kelly was born and raised in Greencastle, Indiana. In 1987, she graduated summa cum laude from Duke University and earned her J.D. cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1991. Jane began her legal career by clerking for the Honorable David R. Hansen on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. She also clerked for the Honorable Donald J. Porter of the United States District Court for the District of South Dakota. Jane served as a teacher at the University of Illinois College of Law before becoming an assistant federal public defender in the Northern District of Iowa in 1994. Since 1999, the Duke University alumna has been serving as supervising attorney in the Cedar Rapids office. While working for the Federal Public Defender's Office, Jane has debated a number of motions as well as federal appellate cases. She has also argued fourteen cases in federal court. In 2004, the assistant federal public defender earned the John Adams Award from the Iowa Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. The award is given each year to an Iowa lawyer who has devoted their career to defending the poor.

On Thursday, January 31, 2013, President Barak Obama nominated Jane Kelly to the United States 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. According to The Gazette article, “Colleagues say Jane Kelly will be ideal appeals court judge,” if Jane is confirmed by the senate, she would become only the second woman to work for the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. There have been sixty-one judges who have worked for the 8th Circuit during its history and Judge Diana Murphy is the only woman that has been appointed to the 8th Circuit Bench.


DesMoinesRegister.com editorial, “Obama nominates Cedar Rapids public defender for federal appeals court,” quoted Iowa Senator Tom Harkin when he stated:
“Kelly has spent her career working on behalf of the most underprivileged in society and has fought tirelessly to ensure the rights of all Iowans are protected. She has a reputation as an extremely talented lawyer with a great sense of compassion and fairness. It was a privilege to recommend her to the White House and, now that she has been formally nominated, an honor on behalf of Iowans.”
Many Iowans would like to see Jane quickly confirmed by the U.S. senate. Progress Iowa, a non-profit organization voiced their opinion when Executive Director Matt Sinovic told the DesMoinesRegister:
“It's time for Senator Grassley and the Senate Judiciary Committee to stop playing politics with our courts and move the nomination of Jane Kelly forward. Any further delay will result in justice denied, and Iowans deserve better from their elected leaders. Kelly will provide an important perspective on the bench as an accomplished attorney, lifelong defender of the indigent and as a woman. Her nomination must move forward without further political obstruction.”
The Gazette reported that Jane's friends and colleagues believe the assistant federal public defender is a great candidate for the 8th Circuit. Stephanie Rose is currently a U.S. District Judge in Des Moines and used to be a U.S. Attorney. Although Rose and Jane went toe-to-toe in the courtroom, Rose said they are good friends and she respects Jane. Rose told The Gazette, “She has a great blend of personality, skills and common sense to make a great lawyer and a judge. Jane is tremendously skilled. I met her in 1997 when I joined the (U.S. Attorney's) office. We had a lot in common – had the same goals and ambitions.”

Judge Michael Melloy, who is retiring from the 8th Circuit, also expressed his enthusiasm for his replacement. According to The Gazette, Melloy claimed, “She is very intelligent and thoughtful. She is a good writer which is important on the appellate court. It will be good to have someone from the public defender realm on the bench.”

The Gazette covered Sixth Judicial District Judge Ian Thornhill's reaction over Jane's nomination. “We had several cases together. I have nothing but respect for her. She is professional and very bright. I consider her a friend as well as a colleague.” Thornhill also worked with Jane when he used to be an assistant U.S. attorney. Sixth Judicial District Associate Judge Casey Jones also praised Jane and he stated she was a mentor to him when he transitioned from being a county public defender to serving the federal system. Jones told The Gazette, “She is one of the most brilliant people I've ever met.”

According to The Gazette, Melloy and other individuals believe that the U.S. Senate will confirm Jane in the summer. Senator Harkin has supported Jane and wants to work closely with Senator Chuck Grassley, who is the chairman of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee, so the Senate can quickly confirm Jane.

The Gazette mentioned that University of Richmond School of Law Professor Carl Tobias believes Jane's candidacy will be reviewed by the Senate in the spring. Tobias studies the United States Senate Judiciary Committee. He said, “Hopefully, Grassley can help move this one through. It's important for her to have his support and the other groups.”

DesMoinesRegister pointed out that Jane and Mary Tabor, who has been a judge on the Iowa Court of Appeals since 2010, were the only names suggested to Obama for the 8th Circuit Bench. The editorial also noted that President Bill Clinton appointed Bonnie Campbell, but the U.S. Senate did not confirm her for the position.

According to kcrg.com column, “Cedar Rapids Attorney Nominated to Federal Appeals Court,” Obama believes Jane is a devoted public servant who has a “first-rate” legal mind.

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