When Hillary Rodham Clinton was sworn in yesterday evening as secretary of state, a familiar face delivered the oath—the same person Clinton spoke for on Capitol Hill back in November when the longtime friend was seeking confirmation as a judge on the D.C. Court of Appeals.
The friend is Kathryn “Kay” Oberly (not Kathleen, as Clinton’s press office reported). Oberly, who joins the bench after a 17-year career at Ernst & Young, took her oath Jan. 19 in order to officiate at Clinton’s ceremony, Clinton’s office reported. D.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Eric Washington swore in Oberly. Her name does not appear yet on the D.C. Court of Appeals home page.
Yesterday, Oberly (pictured at left, with Clinton, last year) delivered the oath to Clinton in a private ceremony in Clinton’s Russell Senate Office. Former President Bill Clinton stood by his wife's side. Vice President Joe Biden swore in six other cabinet members yesterday.
Oberly, who is 58 and married to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Haynes Johnson, found herself the target of grumbling among lawyers in the District who cast her as a well-connected outsider vying for a spot on a local bench. Oberly was co-chair of Lawyers for Hillary and a major fundraiser during Clinton’s bid for the White House. For the past 14 years, Oberly has served as general counsel for Ernst & Young, splitting time between New York City and the District. She has lived in D.C. for more than 30 years.
It was Oberly’s first shot at the bench, and President George W. Bush picked her over Walter Smith Jr., director of the DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, and Corinne Beckwith, an appellate lawyer with the D.C. Public Defender Service. A piece in Legal Times this week explored Oberly’s career in law—she is a former assistant to the solicitor general—and the behind-the-scenes discontent among some lawyers.
Oberly’s ties to Clinton span decades, ever since their childhood days growing up in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge. Oberly says Clinton is the person she most admires in public service. Oberly asked Clinton to speak for her at a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing in late November. A Clinton spokesman says Clinton was more than happy to oblige the request of the longtime friend.
There’s chatter already in the District that Oberly’s ties could mean she is on her way to the federal bench. Oberly tells Legal Times she is happy where she is on the nine-judge D.C. Court of Appeals. Oberly, a former Mayer Brown partner, says she longs to give back to D.C. all that the District has given her over the years.