Jane Kelly Persevered Through A Brutal Assault As A Public Defender & Is Now At The Door Of The Supreme Court

For weeks now, Washington, D.C. has been thick with speculation over who President Obama will select to fill the Supreme Court vacancy opened up by the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia, who passed away while vacationing at a West Texas ranch in February at the age of 79. And in the last couple of days, one name has emerged in the vetting process that's garnered a fair amount of coverage ― Jane Kelly, who persevered through a brutal assault while a public defender in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 2004, and now sits on the precipice of being nominated to the highest court in the nation.

It's a facet to Kelly's story that has gone somewhat overlooked in the early going, for very understandable reasons ― questions about her jurisprudence, and the likelihood of her getting past a sure-to-be-contentious Senate confirmation hearing are looming large right now, and they're certainly the biggest issues going forward. Even though Kelly was confirmed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals by a 96-0 Senate vote in 2013, she surely won't face such a rosy reception this time around.

But there's also a harrowing physical trauma in Kelly's past, one that the decades-long former Democratic senator of her state, Tom Harkin, cited to help explain her perseverance, and as he put it, her "character" and "inner strength." Needless to say, Harkin supports her nomination to the Supreme Court.

It happened back in 2004. As detailed by Grant Rodgers of The Des Moines Register, Kelly was jogging a trail in the city of Cedar Rapids when she was attacked by an unidentified assailant, who struck her from behind and ultimately left her nearly unconscious, unable to move, speak, or summon help. She was reportedly discovered some 20 minutes later, having lost a lot of blood, and had to endure two surgeries and suspend her legal career to recover. Even more shocking and distressing ― the attacker was never found, much less charged with a crime.

Harkin brought up the incident to The Des Moines Register as a means to laud her commitment to criminal defense work ― even though she'd herself been the victim of a violent assault (it was never determined whether the attack was motivated by her job as a public defender), she continued to work in service of the criminally accused.

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. To me, that was a mark of real character and sort of inner strength and resolve that something like that was not going to make her throw in the towel.
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Kelly, were she nominated and confirmed, would be just the fifth woman in American history to serve on the Supreme Court, and she'd make up a bloc of four women currently active on the court, alongside justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Ginsburg. That would be the closest the court's ever come to matching the composition of the public at-large ― a little more than 50 percent of the American citizenry are women, although a 50-50 split on the bench is impossible with just nine seats.