Public Defender Jane Kelly Unanimously Confirmed for 8th Circuit

By William Peacock, Esq. on April 24, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Fifty years after Gideon v. Wainwright, a woman who dedicated her career to the federal public defender's office, and likely passed on many more lucrative paths, has just been unanimously confirmed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. According to the Gazette, she is just the second woman and first public defender to serve in the history of the 122-year-old court.

Equally remarkable was the speed with which her nomination was confirmed. While many of President Barack Obama's nominees have stalled in Congress over the last year or two, her appointment was the quickest of Obama's 45 nominees. This was largely due to the bipartisan support of both Iowa Senators Tom Harkin (D) and Chuck Grassley (R).

In addition to bipartisan support, her resume speaks for itself. As a Harvard grad (she graduated in President Obama’s class), with a District Court clerkship, as well as an Eighth Circuit clerkship for Senior Judge David Hansen (who said Kelly was “a forthright woman with high integrity”), her career opportunities were likely quite lucrative.

Instead, after a brief stint teaching at the University of Illinois College of Law, she helped found the Cedar Rapids Federal Public Defender’s Office in 1994. She has held the position of supervising attorney at that office since 1999.

In honor of her appointment, the Des Moines Register republished a profile they did of her in 2004, when she was the unanimous recipient of the John Adams Award from the Iowa Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and Drake University Law School. Judge Michael Melloy, who she’ll be replacing, spoke at the award ceremony and called her “a consummate professional” who “puts her heart and soul into every case.”

During her acceptance speech, she joked that she couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t know how to make meth. Lets hope that sense of humor carries over into her court opinions.

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