National Review Smears Possible SCOTUS Nominee Jane Kelly For Being A Lawyer

Judicial Crisis Network's Carrie Severino Also Misleadingly Claims Kelly Argued Convicted Child Predator "Was Not A Threat To Society"

Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

National Review's Carrie Severino is smearing 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jane Kelly for performing her basic legal duty when representing a client in 2005 as a public defender. Kelly is reported to be under consideration by President Obama to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. The Washington Post has already uncritically cited Severino's smear in a report on other judges the president may be considering.

In a March 3 post to National Review's Bench Memos blog, Severino, current head of the discredited Judicial Crisis Network, said Kelly's success as a public defender in getting a plea deal for a client charged with receiving and possessing child pornography makes her unsuitable for the Supreme Court:

President Obama is said to be vetting Judge Jane Kelly of the Eighth Circuit to replace Justice Scalia. The White House apparently sees some political value in the fact that she is from Iowa, and [National Review writer] Ed Whelan has rightly interpreted that calculation as an insult to Senator Grassley's intelligence.

As the White House's vetting process unfolds, they will probably find other facts that are significantly less convenient.  For example, when Kelly worked as a public defender she helped secure a plea deal for one Casey Frederiksen, a convicted child predator.

Severino's attack on Kelly was uncritically repeated in a March 7 Washington Post article, which explained that the right-wing Judicial Crisis Network "has hired a research firm to help excavate the records of potential nominees." The story mentioned that Severino "cited a plea deal that Kelly secured as a public defender for a child predator" to claim that Obama's nominee would be a liberal ideologue.

But in her National Review piece, Severino misrepresented a Des Moines Register article on the court case to suggest that Kelly had asserted that, in her own opinion, her client posed no threat to society:

According to a 2005 story in the Des Moines Register, shortly after Frederiksen was indicted, Kelly "argued her client was not a threat to society," an odd assertion to make on behalf of a man who had previously been convicted of sexually molesting a different girl.

In fact, the Des Moines Register story in question shows that Kelly was presenting the view of a psychologist that her client had been seeing (emphasis added):

Frederiksen's attorney, Assistant Public Federal Defender Jane Kelly, argued her client was not a threat to society. She said Frederiksen had been seeing a psychologist, who said that Frederiksen was not a danger to others.

Besides misrepresenting reporting to smear Kelly, Severino's effort to single out Frederiksen as a client echoes past right-wing media attacks on Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton and former Department of Justice civil rights division nominee Debo Adegbile. Some media outlets smeared Clinton and Adegbile for their criminal defense work -- attacks that undermine the principles of the American criminal justice system. Conservatives criticized Clinton for representing an alleged rapist -- a job a judge appointed her to do -- and some attacked Adegbile for his legal representation of a man convicted of killing a police officer. The American Bar Association and many Republican lawyers have criticized such smears and explained that representing criminals is "consistent with the finest tradition of this country's legal profession":

  • American Bar Association: Legal Representation Of Murderer "Consistent With The Finest Tradition" Of American Lawyering.
  • American Bar Association President: Right To Legal Counsel A "Fundamental Tenet Of America's Justice System."
  • Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey: "You Shouldn't Judge A Lawyer By His Clients."
  • Former Bush Administration Official Peter D. Keisler: Acting Within "Honorable Tradition Of Lawyers Representing Controversial Clients" Does Not Make Someone "Unfit" For Service.
  • Kenneth Starr, Top Bush Administration Lawyers Denounced "Shameful" Republican Attacks On Lawyers.
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham: "This System Of Justice That We're So Proud Of In America Requires The Unpopular To Have An Advocate."
  • Former Bush Lawyer John Bellinger Called Attacks On Lawyers For Defending A Client "Inappropriate" "Cheap Shots."

This is not the first time Severino has attempted to attack a nominee or candidate based on their criminal defense work. The Judicial Crisis Network's past efforts at guilt-by-legal-representation have been widely condemned as "McCarthyist," a "flagrant foul," "cynical manipulation," and "grotesquely distorting."

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