Jane Kelly will become a federal appeals court judge Friday with an unusual background that supporters say makes her a perfect fit for the job and a potential U.S. Supreme Court candidate someday.
The 48-year-old attorney has spent her career as a public defender representing low-income criminal defendants, a rarity in the ranks of appeals court judges who are often former prosecutors and trial judges. She'll become just the second woman in the 122-year history of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which handles cases in seven states from Arkansas to the Dakotas.
Kelly, who's worked at the federal public defender's office in Cedar Rapids since 1994, graduated from Harvard Law School in the same 1991 class as President Barack Obama. But her appointment was far from patronage. She had so much support that her confirmation received a 96-0 vote in the Senate less than three months after she was appointed, speedier than any other circuit judge nominated by Obama. She also is the survivor of a 2004 beating on a popular jogging trail that left her hospitalized for weeks and shook Cedar Rapids.
Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat, recommended Kelly to Obama to replace retiring Judge Michael Melloy after she rose above an "outstanding" pool. He said she would be the first career public defender on the circuit, bringing "a critically important perspective."
Iowa's other senator, Republican Chuck Grassley, ranking member on the judiciary committee, helped convince colleagues to move Kelly's confirmation quickly. Grassley said he supported Kelly because she received a glowing endorsement from respected retired judge David Hansen of Iowa, appointed to the circuit by President George H.W. Bush.
There's additional federal court news, as well.
The BLT - Blog of Legal Times posts, "Senate Judiciary Approves Sri Srinivasan for D.C. Circuit," by Matthew Huisman.
The Senate Judiciary Committee gave unanimous approval to Sri Srinivasan to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, clearing the way for him to be the first new judge on the panel since 2006.
Srinivasan’s nomination now heads to the Senate for a full vote. Srinivasan, if he’s confirmed, would fill one of four vacancies on the D.C. Circuit. Despite the 18-0 vote of the committee, Republicans have signaled they’re not interested in adding any more judges to the appeals court.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced legislation in April that would eliminate three spots on the D.C. Circuit. Other Republicans, including Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), have signed onto the legislation. The D.C. Circuit would lose three judge positions under the plan.
Earlier this year, Republicans rejected the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to fill a vacancy on the D.C. Circuit. President Barack Obama has yet to successfully place a judge on the court, often considered the second most important court in the country below the Supreme Court.
White House press secretary Jay Carney, in a written statement, tried to dispel the Republican notion that the open seats should be eliminated.
"The D.C. Circuit is often considered the nation’s second-highest court, but it has twice as many vacancies as any other court of appeals, and its workload has increased by over 20 percent since 2005," Carney said. "Srinivasan’s confirmation will be an important first step to filling this court’s four vacancies, and the full Senate should act without unnecessary delay."
Also from the BLT, "Federal Courts Ask for Emergency Funding," by Todd Ruger.
Federal courts officials have asked Congress for emergency funding, saying the judiciary does not have the budget flexibility to absorb the large mandatory budget cuts that have caused furloughs in the nation's federal public defender and court offices.
In a letter sent Tuesday to the White House Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Judicial Conference said the courts need an emergency appropriation of $73 million—$41 million for federal public defenders and $32 million for court operations. The money would save 550 jobs in public defender and clerk offices, and prevent 24,000 furlough days for 5,000 employees, the letter states.
The judicial conference request also connected the emergency funding to the Boston Marathon bombing, saying $5 million for projected representation costs "for high-threat trials, including high-threat cases in New York and Boston" that federal public defenders would have been able to absorb had the sequester not happened.