People For the American Way

When the Judicial Nominations Process Works

The Senate Judiciary Committee announced today that it will hold a hearing next week on the nomination of Jane Kelly to be a judge on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. This is great news, and not only because she’s an excellent nominee: It also shows how efficiently the nomination and confirmation process can work.

During the summer, circuit Judge Mike Melloy announced that he would be taking senior status early in 2013. Since he is from Iowa, his replacement would also be from Iowa, and Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin launched a process to identify qualified nominees to recommend to the White House. He forwarded two names in November, and the White House – after a full vetting process that takes many weeks – announced its nomination of Kelly on January 31, just one day after the vacancy formally opened up. Sen. Harkin’s speed was an essential part of keeping this vacancy open for as short a time as possible.

Iowa’s other senator is also playing a key role in moving the process along, because the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy will not hold a hearing on a nominee until both home-state senators give their approval (or, in Senate lingo, “submit their blue slips“). That senator is none other than the committee’s ranking Republican, Chuck Grassley, who in this case quickly gave his approval to a clearly qualified nominee. So three weeks after the nomination was announced, the hearing has been scheduled.

Kelly is a terrific nominee who has dedicated her career to defending those who cannot afford to pay for legal representation. She has been an Assistant Federal Public Defender in Iowa since 1994. She would be the first public defender to sit on the Eighth Circuit, bringing an important element of professional diversity to the court. She would also be the first woman from Iowa to serve on the Eighth Circuit and only the second woman to serve on that court.

With the president, White House staff, and Sens. Harkin and Grassley all working together to quickly fill a vacancy with a highly qualified nominee, the process is moving along at an excellent pace. We look forward to the hearing and a timely committee vote, and we hope that she will then expeditiously get a confirmation vote from the full Senate.


Chuck Grassley, Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, Jane Kelly, judicial nominations, Lower Federal Courts, Tom Harkin