US: Supreme Court Could Use a Good Public Defender

Once a Supreme Court nominee is selected, public hurriedly forgets the people who are not chosen. Now is the good time to shift our attention on someone who got the affirmation (almost): Judge Jane Kelly.

It is a good time because Judge Jane Kelly represents a critically vital, but often ignored part of US’ criminal justice system.

On Friday was the National Public Defence Day that celebrates the anniversary of the Supreme Court that is on Mar 18, 1963, decision in the Gideon v. Wainwright. That landmark ruling recognized the right to counsel for the indigent persons who are accused of crimes in the state courts.

As the Supreme Court explained:

“From the beginning, our state & national constitutions & laws have laid great emphasis on procedural & substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before law. This noble ideal can’t be realized if the poor man charged with the crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.”

Jane Kelly, because of her history realizes what it is worth to a poor individual to have a lawyer who is better than most people.

Kelly graduate in 1991 in same Harvard Law School class as President Barrack Obama. Judge Jane Kelly could’ve sought wealth & a prestige at a big law firm or started up the ranks of govt. service by becoming a federal prosecutor. But instead, she decided to stand up for the poor people. Following the back-to-back clerkships with the federal judges  Kelly went to work as a public defender in Northern District of Iowa. She had served there for nearly 2 decades, until her former classmate, Barrack Obama, nominated her in 2013 to an appellate judgeship.

She did not get the Supreme Court gig this time, but probably the next time she will. Voices like Kelly’s are needed at the high court and not only because there’s a dearth of the real-life trial experience among justices, but because the rights of most powerless are eternally under the siege.

Jane Kelly’s commitment to defending others was confirmed in 2004, when she had spent months recuperating from brutal attack that had nearly killed her. The crime however remains unsolved.

“It is easy to lose compassion,” said Kelly. “But the problem is bigger than who committed the crime,” she added.

Senator Tom Harkin, who had recommended Ms. Jane Kelly for appellate judgeship, stated that the incident said a lot about her true nature.

“After having that happen to her, she went right back to work sticking up for the constitutional rights of people accused by the federal government,” said Mr. Harkin. “To me, that was a mark of real character & sort of inner strength & resolve that something like that was not going to make her throw in the towel.”

In 2013, during her confirmation hearing Judge Jane Kelly spoke about what has motivated her life’s work.

“As a criminal defence attorney, I’m often representing someone who, shall I say, is not the most popular person in the room,” said Kelly. “So I, as much as anyone, know how important it’s to be fair & impartial & make decisions based on things other than bias, favour or prejudice.”