Obama Said to Consider Iowa Judge for U.S. Supreme Court

Updated on
  • Jane Kelly was unanimously confirmed to appeals court in 2013
  • Republican Grassley previously called her 'well regarded'

President Barack Obama speaks in the Oval Office of the White House on Feb. 24, 2016.

Photographer: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama is considering a federal judge in Iowa to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a person familiar with the matter said.

Jane Kelly, a federal appeals court judge in Cedar Rapids, would be the third woman Obama has nominated for the High Court. Naming her would escalate political pressure on Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who spoke fondly of Kelly in 2013 before the Senate voted 96-0 to confirm her for the Court of Appeals. 

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation is conducting background interviews for Kelly’s potential nomination, a person familiar with the process said. The person asked not to be identified because the White House has not disclosed details of Obama’s deliberations.

Grassley and other Republicans on his committee have vowed they will hold no hearings on any Obama nominee, saying the next president should fill the vacancy created by Scalia’s Feb. 13 death. 

In a 2013 speech, he called Kelly "well regarded in my home state of Iowa" and quoted a retired appeals court judge for whom she clerked, David Hansen, who said "she is a forthright woman of high integrity and honest character" with an "exceptionally keen intellect."

Grassley said Kelly’s easy confirmation to the appeals court has no bearing on her possible nomination for the Supreme Court. He suggested she could be considered for the court if Democrats Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders win the presidency.

"I supported her for the 8th Circuit, but as I’ve said it’s the principle not the person, and if Clinton or Sanders is elected, she may be on the short list,” Grassley said in an e-mailed statement. “Supreme Court scrutiny is some of the toughest there is. Just look at Robert Bork, who was also unanimously confirmed for a circuit court seat.”

The Senate rejected Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987, 42-58, after a combative debate.

The White House declined to comment on Kelly’s consideration. The New York Times reported earlier that the White House was vetting Kelly for the court.

Kelly, who was born in 1964, is an Indiana native and a Harvard Law School classmate of Obama’s. She was a college professor and federal public defender in Cedar Rapids before joining the appeals court.

The White House may be considering more than one potential nominee to the court. Vetting often begins before the president settles on a final choice.