The Senate confirmed Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday, the federal appeals court based in St. Louis, Mo.
Despite opposition from key Democratic lawmakers, Stras was confirmed on a 56-42 vote.
Stras clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court and taught at the University of Minnesota Law School before his elevation to the state supreme court in 2010. Stras appeared on Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees during the 2016 presidential campaign, and is widely considered a serious contender for an appointment to the high court during a Republican administration.
He received a well-qualified rating from the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Judiciary, which returns assessments on all judicial nominees.
He is the grandson of two Holocaust survivors.
Though Stras secured support from several Democrats, former Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken opposed his nomination. Informal Senate convention gives something of a veto to senators representing states where judicial vacancies occur. Though the rule has not been consistently enforced, as a general matter the Senate Judiciary Committee will not schedule a confirmation hearing until the two senators from the state where the relevant vacancy occurs submit a report or “blue slip” to the committee chairman.
As Stras was tapped for one of the 8th Circuit’s Minnesota seats, Franken’s obstruction could have stalled the nomination, but Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa elected to proceed with a hearing anyway. Franken later resigned in disgrace after several women accused him of sexual misconduct.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, claimed Stras’ confirmation was the first time in decades that a circuit court nominee was confirmed over the objections of home state senators.
“Circumventing this tradition threatens the constitutional duties of every senator, weakening our ability to represent our unique states,” she said. “The Senate needs to protect its ‘advise and consent’ role. Otherwise, this body will be nothing more than a rubber stamp.”
Conservative court-watchers countered that Stras is a sterling nominee well suited for the federal courts.
“Justice Stras is experienced, highly regarded in both Minnesota and across the country, and will apply the law fairly,” said Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network. “President Trump has done an excellent job of selecting exceptional judicial nominees to the federal bench, and this is just another example of the president’s success.”