The answer is that “almost nobody knew” outside of the insular “tower” world of EOIR Headquarters in Falls Church, VA. It took some super sleuthing by ace Legal Reporter Allissa Wickham over at Law 360 to smoke this one out.
With a little help from her friends, the fabulous “AWick” came upon Judge Kelly’s name in the Roster of Board Members in The Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) Online Practice Manual. (As the BIA Practice Manual was instituted during my tenure as BIA Chair, I’m gratified that someone out there is actually reading it.)
Armed with that tidbit of information, AWick was able to get confirmation of Judge Kelly’s appointment from EOIR spokesperson Kathryn Mattingly on Friday evening. Interestingly, Judge Kelly’s biography no longer appears in the online listing for the Office of Chief Immigration Judge, where he had served for a number of years as a Deputy Chief Immigration Judge. Nor has his name or biography appeared under the online listing for the BIA. In other words, Judge Kelly is somewhat “lost in EOIR space” — close to being a bureaucratic “non-person.”
For those who don’t know, the BIA is the highest administrative tribunal in the filed of immigration. With an authorized membership of 16 Appellate Immigration Judges (Judge Kelly became #15, leaving one vacancy), the BIA received more than 29,000 cases and completed more than 34,000 cases in FY 2015 and had nearly 17,000 pending at the end of that year. By comparison, for the same period, the U.S. Supreme Court received 6,475 cases and took only 81 for oral argument.
The Board also issues nationwide precedents that are binding on the U.S. Immigration Courts and the DHS. Although a part of the Executive, not the Judicial Branch, the BIA effectively occupies a position in our justice system just below that of a U.S. Court of Appeals.
Moreover, as I have pointed out in other blogs, because of the idiosyncrasies of the Supreme Court’s so called “Chevron doctrine,” the Courts of Appeals actually are required to “defer” to the BIA’s interpretation of ambiguous questions of law. Indeed, under the Supreme Court’s remarkable “Brand X doctrine” (“Chevron on steroids”) under some circumstances the BIA can reject the legal reasoning of a Court of Appeals and apply its own interpretation instead.
In other words, notwithstanding their rather cloistered existence, and attempt to remain “below the radar screen,” BIA Appellate Immigration Judges are some of the most powerful judges in the entire Federal Justice system. That makes the lack of publicity about Judge Kelly’s elevation to the appellate bench even more curious.
For those who don’t know him, Judge Kelly started moving “up the ladder” at EOIR when I appointed him to a newly created staff supervisory position at the BIA in the mid-1990s. He was selected because of his reputation for fairness, scholarship, strong writing, collegiality, and ability to teach and inspire others. In other staff positions at the BIA, Judge Kelly became a master of understanding, explaining, and recommending improvements to the case management system. I believe it was those skills and understanding of the mechanics of the Immigration Court System that made him rise to a Deputy Chief Judge position within the Office of Chief Immigration Judge in Falls Church.
Judge Kelly was at the BIA in the late 1990s when the EOIR Executive Group developed the “EOIR Vision” of “through teamwork and innovation, being the world’s best administrative tribunals, guaranteeing fairness and due process for all.” Although over the years, Department of Justice and EOIR management have essentially downplayed and moved away from any public expression or reinforcement of this noble vision, I’m confident that Judge Kelly remains committed to the due process mission we all embarked upon together several decades ago.
From his prior vantage point as a Deputy Chief Immigration Judge, Judge Kelly saw first-hand the docket and due process disaster caused by the DOJ’s politicized meddling in the daily case management practices of the U.S. Immigration Courts over the past several years. He also witnessed the general failure of the BIA to step up and stand up for the due process rights of individuals being hustled through the system with neither lawyers nor any realistic chance of effectively presenting their claims for potential life saving protection.
I hope that as the “new Appellate Immigration Judge on the block,” Judge Kelly will bring a forceful voice for due process and fairness to his colleagues’ deliberations. By doing so, perhaps he can persuade them to face and address some of the important due process and fairness issues in the Immigration Courts that they have been avoiding.
Judge Kelly’s professional bio (taken from his appointment as Deputy Chief Judge, in the absence of a formal announcement from DOJ/EOIR) is reprinted here:
“FALLS CHURCH, Va. – The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) today announced the appointment of a second deputy chief immigration judge (DCIJ). Effective March 10, 2013, Assistant Chief Immigration Judge (ACIJ) Edward F. Kelly will become a DCIJ. Judge Kelly will assume direct supervision of the program components in the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge (OCIJ), including the legal unit, the language service unit, the organizational results unit, the chief clerk, and the executive officer.
“Judge Kelly’s appointment as deputy chief immigration judge is in recognition of his tremendous contributions to OCIJ’s efficiencies and services,” said Chief Immigration Judge Brian M. O’Leary. “With his expanded role, I am confident OCIJ will continue to improve our operations and inspire our staff.”
Biographical information follows:
Attorney General Holder appointed Judge Kelly as an ACIJ in March 2011. He received a bachelor of arts degree in 1982 and a juris doctorate in 1987, both from the University of Notre Dame. From November 2009 to March 2011, Judge Kelly served as senior counsel and chief of staff for OCIJ. From 2007 to 2009, he was counsel for operations for OCIJ at EOIR. From 1998 to 2007, Judge Kelly was a senior legal advisor for the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), EOIR. From 1995 to 1998, he served as a supervisory attorney and team leader for the BIA. From 1989 to 1993 and again from 1994 to 1995, Judge Kelly was an attorney advisor for the BIA. From 1987 to 1989, he served as an assistant counsel, Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and International Law, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. From 1982 to 1984, he served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Gabon, Africa. Judge Kelly is a member of the Virginia State Bar.”
Perhaps, eventually, EOIR will announce Judge Kelly’s appointment. Who knows?
Additionally, those of you with full Law 360 access (which I don’t have) can read AWick’s full article at the Lexis link below.