Editor’s Note: This blog was written and submitted by Vision 2020 Missouri Delegate Dayna Stock.
Granted, he’s already nominated two women to the United States Supreme Court, so this may seem to pale in comparison. Really, though, this is big. Big like, “make it ala mode!” We’ve waited a century for this.
According to Vision 2020 ally, the National Women’s Law Center, as women’s representation in law school classes has approached 50 percent, the number of women in the federal judiciary has largely stagnated. That is no truer than on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The nominee, Jane Kelly, has been an Assistant Federal Public Defender in the Northern District of Iowa since 1994, serving as the Supervising Attorney in the Cedar Rapids office since 1999. She has excellent credentials: summa cum laude from Duke and cum laude from Harvard Law School, former law clerk at the U.S. District Court in South Dakota, and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2004, she received the John Adams Award from the Iowa Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, which is given annually to an Iowa attorney who has dedicated his or her career to defending the indigent.
Here is the big part: When she is confirmed, Kelly will become only the second woman judge in the Eighth Circuit’s 121-year history, joining the Honorable Diana Murphy who was appointed in 1994. The last nine appointments to the Eight Circuit have been men. The circuit, which covers all or parts of Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, has fewer women than any other federal appellate court in the country.
It’s a stretch to say that Kelly’s nomination breaks the glass ceiling, but it’s a breakthrough, no doubt.
Kelly and Obama were law school class mates, and that certainly helped her case. But it won’t surprise you to learn that this appointment has been the focus of a five-year campaign led by women in the Eighth Circuit determined to increase gender diversity on the bench. Five years ago, attorneys and educators in Minnesota launched “the Infinity Project” (the name represents the number eight, turned on its side) with an eye towards this day, this vacancy. Like Vision 2020, they have a goal of increasing the number of women in senior leadership positions, in particular, U.S. Appeals Court Judge. They organized women and men from states across the circuit, raising awareness of the need for, and availability of, qualified women candidates. They engaged U.S. Senators to solicit their support, helped women in the circuit prepare and position themselves for a vacancy, and advocated tirelessly for a seat at the table, or in this case, on the bench.
These women are not unlike the Vision 2020 founding mothers, or Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Susan B. Anthony (who would have celebrated her birthday tomorrow). They were clear that time alone would not advance equality; that it would take a committed and sustained effort to bring about change. In Stanton’s words, “these things do not come of themselves.”
With Kelly’s nomination, it appears that in the Eighth Circuit, the push for equality paid off. How poetic that the suffragists had an aim of establishing “justice for all.”