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Franken to oppose MN Supreme Court Justice David Stras' nomination to federal bench

Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras

ST. PAUL — Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken said Tuesday that he opposes Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras' nomination to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which could scuttle President Donald Trump's intent to name him to the federal court.

"Justice Stras' professional background and record strongly suggest that, if confirmed, he would embrace the legacy of his role models and reliably rule in favor of powerful corporate interests over working people, and that he would place a high bar before plaintiffs seeking justice at work, at school, and at the ballot box," Franken said in a statement.

Although Republicans control the U.S. Senate, and therefore the confirmation process, the Senate's tradition is to pay great heed to the opinions of court nominees' home-state senators. If the Senate sticks with tradition — and it is not clear if it will do so — Franken's opposition would end consideration of Stras' nomination.

A White House official said the Senate should go forward with a hearing on Stras, despite Franken's opposition.

"Senator Franken's opposition to Justice Stras is partisan, obstructionist politics at its worst. David Stras is as qualified as it gets. He deserves a chance to have a hearing so the American people can see that for themselves. We hope the Judiciary Committee schedules one forthwith," the official said.

Trump nominated Stras, who has served on the state's highest court since being appointed by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2010, for the federal bench in May.

Since then, the White House and Republicans have accused Franken and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., of blocking progress on his confirmation. In June, the White House sent reporters an email titled: "Obstruction alert: Senate Democrats hold blue slips, delay Trump's federal judicial nominees."

Klobuchar and Franken denied blocking Stras last month, saying they were still considering his nomination.

In reaction to Franken's announcement, Klobuchar released a statement saying she believed Stras deserved a full hearing before the Senate, given his record of respecting precedent, opining with the state Supreme Court's majority and support from former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page.

"I am also concerned that this position could simply go to a less independent judge from another 8th Circuit state (Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota or South Dakota) since this is not a permanent Minnesota position," she said in the statement.

But she noted, under Senate tradition which gives senators a "blue slip" with which to opine on home-state judicial nominees, that her support for a hearing may not matter and asked the White House to try another nominee.

"Under Senate practice, both senators from a judicial nominee's home state must allow that nominee to have a hearing," she said in a statement. "Changing this policy would have serious ramifications for judicial nominations in every state in the country. Given this important policy, and given Senator Franken's view that Justice Stras should not be allowed a hearing in the Senate, the White House will need to provide additional names for the 8th Circuit position."

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley may not plan to continue the tradition of giving individual senators the power over blocking judicial nominees. The Republican from Iowa has a record of respecting the home-state senator power regarding former Democratic President Barack Obama's judicial nominees — to Democrats' objections — but has said recently the process is more important when it comes to district court judges than circuit court judges. The Senate has also, on occasion, gone forward with hearings over the objections of home-state senators for some nominees.

Last month, the Democratic senators from Michigan cleared the way for the confirmation process to begin for a Michigan Supreme Court justice's nomination to the federal Appeals Court.

Franken said Tuesday that Stras is a committed public servant who cares deeply about the law but is not a consensus candidate for the judicial spot. The senator said the White House did not work with him on finding a "judicial moderate."

Stras, who clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas early in his career, spent six years teaching at the University of Minnesota Law School before Pawlenty appointed him to the state bench.

He has won praise from jurists and law professors and was on a list of potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees Trump released during his campaign last year.

Stras has remained on the state Supreme Court while his nomination to the federal Appeals Court is pending and participated in oral arguments Tuesday. But he recused himself from the state court's consideration of a lawsuit the Minnesota Legislature brought against Gov. Mark Dayton.

Through a court spokesman, Stras declined to comment on Franken's opposition to his nomination.

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