Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras’ candidacy for a seat on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals received new life on Thursday, when a key U.S. senator said he would do away with a long-standing tradition that allowed home state senators to stall nominations.
After months of speculation, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Thursday he would proceed with Stras’ confirmation and scheduled a Nov. 29 hearing for Stras and a Fifth Circuit nominee.
Stras was nominated in May by President Donald Trump, but his candidacy has been in limbo since September, when Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said he was withholding his “blue-slip,” a document that by Senate tradition grants home-state senators the courtesy of approving a hearing for a jurist’s nomination.
Grassley told senators Thursday that the blue slip could not be used by home-state senators as “veto power” over nominees.
The uncertainty surrounding Stras’ nomination has stalled appointments for other key federal vacancies in Minnesota, including two district court openings and a U.S. attorney. Trump has yet to announce nominations for any other Minnesota vacancy.
On Thursday, Grassley added that he remains less likely to proceed on district court nominees who don’t receive blue slips from their home-state senators.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who like Franken also serves on the Judiciary Committee, returned her blue slip for Stras earlier this year. The Senate has received letters of support signed by a broad swath of the Minnesota legal community, including state Supreme Court colleagues appointed by both DFL and Republican governors.
In September, Klobuchar said Stras respected precedent “for the vast majority” of his cases and added that she was concerned that the position “could simply go to a less independent judge” from another state in the circuit if Stras didn’t get a hearing.
On Thursday, Klobuchar said, “I’ve said from the beginning that every senator has the right to object to a judicial nominee from their home state and that should be respected no matter what party they are from — I still believe that. It was always my personal view that Justice Stras deserved a hearing, but I oppose the decision to abandon the blue slip process.”
In announcing his opposition, Franken cited Stras’ “deeply conservative” credentials as cause for concern and complained that the White House had “outsourced” the job of picking judicial candidates to conservative interest groups.
Franken’s office did not respond immediately to a request for comment on Thursday.
The Senate has generally honored the blue-slip process for much of the past century, although Judiciary Committee chairs have varied in how strictly they honored it.