Could Jane Kelly Replace Antonin Scalia? The Supreme Court Seat Is Still Up For Grabs
Since the unexpected death of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia in February, all of Washington, D.C. has been seized with anticipation for the battle that's coming next ― the big, contentious, hugely consequential Senate confirmation fight that is sure to follow. And from the sounds of things, President Obama is now eyeing a potential pick who has one obvious, notable advantage: Will Jane Kelly be Antonin Scalia's replacement?
There have been a number of names floated as possible Obama nominees so far ― Sri Srinivasan, Paul Watford, even sitting attorney general Loretta Lynch ― but regardless of who gets picked, the path forward won't be an easy one. In the hours and days following the news of Scalia's death, members of Republican leadership had already concluded and announced that they'd fight Obama's attempt to appoint a new justice to the court, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisting the vacancy should be decided by the voters in November.
Since then, there have been some negotiations between top-level Democrats and Republicans, with a White House meeting on Tuesday between McConnell, Obama, and Senators Harry Reid and Chuck Grassley that reportedly went nowhere. But with Kelly's name now being floated, the last name on that list could find himself in a pretty awkward position.
That's because Grassley is the senior senator from Iowa, as well as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In simple terms, it's up to him whether the Senate will hold confirmation hearings on any nominee Obama selects ― he's effectively a one-man filibuster on the matter, as long as he's willing to shoulder the political costs. Despite what numerous elected Republicans and members of the conservative commentary class have argued, there is no historical practice of blocking confirmation hearings on Supreme Court justices just because it is the final year of an ongoing president's tenure.
In other words, it would be a flatly, plainly obstructionist tact for the Republicans to take, and Grassley sits at the tip of that spear. And if Obama picks Kelly, he will have an even trickier situation on his hands ― back in 2013, when Kelly was going through her Senate confirmation hearings to join the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, Grassley praised her in no uncertain terms, reading aloud a letter from one of Kelly's former clerks that lauded her "high integrity" and "keen intellect."
There's no way to say for sure whether she will actually get the nod, of course. Part of the political calculus for Obama has to be that he could ultimately cost whoever he picks their chance to actually get confirmed and ascend to the Supreme Court. With obstruction on the mind, and the political climate rather testy, it's not at all hard to imagine the first person Obama picks would be rejected as a matter of pure politics, and that's if it even got as far as confirmation hearings. For what it's worth, however, you may find out who it'll be pretty soon ― according to Reid, Obama's announcement could come next week.