WASHINGTON – The White House is vetting federal appellate Judge Jane Kelly for a possible U.S. Supreme Court nomination to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the New York Times reported on Wednesday, citing a person with knowledge of the process.
The FBI has been conducting background interviews on Kelly, the Times said, citing the unnamed source. Scalia, a long-serving conservative justice, died on Feb. 13.
The White House declined to comment on the report.
Kelly, a white woman and former public defender, has served on the St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals since April 2013. She was confirmed to the post by the Senate on a 96-0 vote.
She had been mentioned by legal experts as a potential nominee in part because her earlier nomination to the appeals court was supported by Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that would review any Supreme Court nomination.
Grassley said at the time that Kelly was “well regarded in my home state of Iowa” and that he was “pleased to support” her nomination.
Kelly, 51, served as a clerk for now-retired Judge David Hansen, a friend of Grassley who served on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
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Republican leaders have so far rebuffed President Barack Obama’s appeal to hold confirmation hearings and a vote on a nominee, including in a face-to-face meeting on Tuesday at the White House that failed to budge them from their vow to block anyone he offers for the job.
Republicans say the decision on who to nominate should be left to the next president, who takes office next January after the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election. Republicans hope to win back the White House then.
Under the U.S. Constitution, the president nominates Supreme Court justices and the Senate must confirm them. Without Scalia, the court has four conservative and four liberal justices, meaning any potential Obama nominee could tip the court to the left for the first time in decades.
Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, a moderate Republican, took himself out of consideration for appointment to the Supreme Court last week, a day after his name surfaced in connection with the Scalia vacancy.