WASHINGTON (CN) - The Senate on Tuesday confirmed a Minnesota Supreme Court justice to a seat on the Eighth Circuit after a nomination process that primarily revolved around a century-old tradition that gives senators input on the judges who will oversee their state.
David Stras, who has served on the Minnesota Supreme Court since 2010, sat for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in November despite not receiving the support of both of Minnesota's senators. Under the Senate tradition known as the blue slip, both of a nominee's home-state senators must sign off before a nominee can receive a hearing before the committee.
Stras cleared the Senate 56-42 on Tuesday afternoon, putting a third Trump nominee on the Eighth Circuit.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., returned her blue slip signing off on Stras' nomination, but her former colleague, Sen. Al Franken, did not. Franken, who left the Senate this year after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct, said the White House did not allow him a meaningful opportunity to give input on who should fill the vacant 8th Circuit seat, while also citing "severe reservations" about Stras' conservative record.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee, scheduled a hearing for Stras nonetheless, announcing in November he would go forward with nominees even without the support of one of their home-state senators. Grassley said the blue slip tradition was not meant to give a single senator veto power over a nomination for ideological reasons, but rather to ensure the White House at least consulted with senators before making a judicial selection
Grassley explained the shift would primarily apply to nominees to federal appeals courts that have jurisdiction over multiple states, saying he would be less likely to grant hearings to federal district court nominees without two positive blue slips.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, raised concerns that Sen. Tina Smith did not have the chance to submit a blue slip on Stras after she replaced Franken earlier this year, but Klobuchar said at a committee meeting earlier this month that Smith had not requested the opportunity to do so.
Feinstein still expressed concern about what Stras' approval means for the Senate's role in the judicial nomination appointment process.
"Circumventing this tradition threatens the constitutional duties of every senator, weakening our ability to represent our unique states," Feinstein said in a statement. "The Senate needs to protect its 'advise and consent' role. Otherwise, this body will be nothing more than a rubber stamp."
Unlike with many Trump nominees, Democrats' objections to Stras were primarily made on procedural grounds, with limited ire directed at his legal record. Klobuchar said she believed Stras' time on the Minnesota Supreme Court showed he would be fair and impartial, even if she does agreed with every decision he has made on the bench.
"I want to be clear that he would not be my first choice for this job, there were others that I had worked with over the years and knew that I would have suggested for this job," Klobuchar said earlier this month. "But morally, when I look at this and have to answer the question is he qualified, could he serve on the 8th Circuit, I have to say yes. I do not see the kind of hot-button political controversial writings or work that I see in many of these nominees that I have opposed."
Stras graduated from the University of Kansas School of Law in 1999 and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas from 2002 to 2003. He then jumped to academia, working from 2004 to 2011 at the University of Minnesota Law School in various roles. He has since served as an adjunct or visiting professor at Vanderbilt University Law School, the Indiana University-Maurer School of Law and the University of Iowa College of Law.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, appointed Stras to the Supreme Court in 2010 and won re-election with nearly 56 percent of the vote in 2012. A member of the conservative Federalist Society, Stras was one of the judges named on Trump's short list of potential nominees to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.
Stras listed as one of his most important litigation efforts his efforts representing a man convicted of murdering a Washington, D.C., police officer. Stras said he took the case pro bono while practicing at the firm Sidley Austin Brown & Wood, working on post-trial motions and researching the case's appellate prospects.
"My commitment to the Dean case reflected my longstanding belief that, in our criminal-justice system, every individual, regardless of income, is entitled to a vigorous defense regardless of the crime alleged," Stras wrote in response to written questions submitted after his nomination hearing.
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