A U.S. Senate vote Tuesday landed David Stras a coveted seat on a federal appeals court while also affecting the makeup of the Minnesota Supreme Court he’s leaving behind.
Stras was approved on a 56-42 vote about nine months after he was nominated by President Trump. It’s an indefinite appointment to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, although Trump has also listed Stras among the candidates he’d consider for any opening on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Stras hasn’t done interviews since his selection and didn’t immediately respond to a new request.
But his judicial promotion leaves a vacancy on Minnesota’s highest court. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton gets to fill that slot, and his office immediately set the selection process in motion. This pick will further solidify Dayton’s imprint on the seven-member Minnesota Supreme Court, where four of the current justices are his picks.
“There are literally hundreds of men and women in Minnesota who would be supremely well qualified. So it’s a daunting task and I just want someone who is really top qualified, someone who will work well with the six present justices,” Dayton said. “Somebody who brings kind of a Minnesota perspective and experience and set of values that the court will need to apply.”
He said previous judicial experience won’t be a set requirement, but he wants someone who knows the way around the courtroom and is versed in issues facing society.
Dayton isn’t required to follow a judicial selection commission’s recommendations but he said he’ll consider the panel’s advice. A selection probably won’t come before late March. In Minnesota, justices don’t stand for legislative confirmation but must periodically face voters in elections that incumbent judges almost always win.
The Stras nomination had been a flashpoint. Then-Sen. Al Franken had objected to a confirmation hearing, citing concerns over his judicial record and his writings before he was on a court. That refusal to return a “blue slip” had typically been fatal for nominees at that level, but Republicans pressed ahead anyway.
In a speech Monday, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., criticized the decision to hold a vote on Stras and said “it will mark the first time since 1982 that a circuit court nominee was confirmed without both home state senators returning blue slips in support of a hearing.”
Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar voted for the Stras confirmation while Franken’s replacement, Democratic Sen. Tina Smith, opposed it.
Stras, 43, had served on the Minnesota Supreme Court since 2010. Before that he was a University of Minnesota law professor and had several high-profile clerk positions, including one for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Conservative legal groups had pushed hard for him to be considered despite the Franken objection, going so far as to run ads on Minnesota television.
U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, who was among the Republican congressmen in Minnesota who recommended Stras to Trump, said the confirmation was deserved.
“While his wisdom will be missed on the state’s Supreme Court, Minnesota is fortunate to have such a brilliant, respected legal mind serve on the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit,” Paulsen said in a written statement. “He displays the fair-mindedness and prudence required and expected of our judges.”