When Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras was nominated for the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, the news was met with enthusiastic support by Minnesotans from across the political spectrum.
A diverse group of judges, attorneys and law professors urged the Senate to act on Stras’ nomination and confirm him for the Eighth Circuit. Among those who signed letters of support for Stras are former colleagues on the Minnesota Supreme Court, including retired Justice Alan Page and others appointed by a bipartisan list of governors, as well as former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Gov. Mark Dayton.
Stras is also supported by 12 former members of Congress from Minnesota (Republicans and Democrats), by members of the faculty at the University of Minnesota Law School and by more than 100 prominent Minnesota attorneys.
Despite this widespread, bipartisan support, the U.S. Senate has stalled on considering the Stras nomination. Stras has no confirmation hearing in sight, even though other judges nominated around the same time have either had a hearing or will have one soon. When the Senate held a confirmation hearing in July, it was for another Eighth Circuit nominee — Judge Ralph Erickson from North Dakota — whose nomination was submitted to the Senate after the White House submitted Stras’ name.
The reason for the delay is that Stras’ nomination is being held up by Minnesota’s Democrat U.S. senators — Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken. Neither senator has returned the “blue slip” necessary for the nomination to move forward.
Under Senate tradition, any senator can delay or halt a nominee from the senator’s home state by refusing to return the blue slip to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Thus, as long as the Senate follows the blue-slip tradition, Klobuchar and Franken can block Stras from receiving a confirmation hearing simply by refusing to return their blue slips.
To be clear, Klobuchar’s and Franken’s refusal to return their blue slips has nothing to do with Stras’ merit. There is no dispute that Stras has all the qualifications and attributes to be an outstanding judge. He received a well-qualified rating from the American Bar Association, which is the highest recommendation possible. He is a renowned expert on federal courts — before joining the Minnesota Supreme Court, Stras was a scholar on federal courts at the University of Minnesota Law School.
And in the seven years he has served on Minnesota’s high court, Stras has demonstrated a commitment to the impartial rule of law, basing his decisions on reasoned analysis of the Constitution, statutes and precedent without personal or political bias. As he explained in one case, “my role as a judge is not to implement my own policy preferences, but to interpret the law as written.”
Stalling Stras’ nomination is the latest example of partisan game-playing in Washington. By blocking his confirmation, the senators are keeping an outstanding legal mind off the Eighth Circuit court, and preventing another Minnesotan from joining a court where the majority of judges are from other states. This is unacceptable.
Along with many other Minnesotans from across the political spectrum, I urge Sens. Klobuchar and Franken to end their obstructionism and allow Stras’ nomination to proceed for a confirmation hearing and vote.
Erik Paulsen, a Republican, represents Minnesota’s Third Congressional District in the U.S. House.