Trump taps Minnesota Justice Stras for federal appeals court

David Stras
Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice David Stras address a news conference May 13, 2010 in St. Paul, Minn. President Donald Trump recently nominated him to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Jim Mone | AP 2010

Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice David Stras, who was nominated by President Donald Trump to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday, once clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and believes in a limited role for the judiciary.

Stras, 42, a former University of Minnesota Law School professor, was on Trump's list of possible Supreme Court nominees. The 8th Circuit serves Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, and Arkansas.

The nomination is subject to Senate confirmation. Sen. Al Franken, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement he would take a close look at Stras' record. He criticized a nomination process that he said "relied heavily on guidance from far-right ... special interest groups."

Stras planned to issue a statement later Monday. When Stras was appointed to the Minnesota court in 2010 by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Thomas traveled to Minnesota to administer the oath.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

"I remain mindful that the role of a judge is a limited one, and that judges can't solve every problem," Stras said then. "But at the same time, judges play a crucial role in safeguarding liberty and protecting the rights of all citizens."

Stras has held to those beliefs, said Peter Knapp, a professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

He cited a 2014 ruling overturning the criminal conviction of a man who failed to pay child support. Larry Nelson was convicted under a statute that obligated him "to provide care and support" to his children. His lawyers argued that the state failed to prove he didn't provide "care" to them.

In a majority opinion written by Stras, the court concluded that the law required the state to prove that Nelson failed to provide both care and support.

"He said 'And means and,'" Knapp said, noting that the Legislature changed the law in its next session. Retired Justice Alan Page, a former Minnesota Viking who was the state's first black Supreme Court justice, said Stras is not an ideologue and they often ended up on the same side despite their different backgrounds and experiences.

"I suspect there are those who would be surprised we agreed with each other as much as we did," Page said.

Stras' departure would give Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton another seat to fill on a state Supreme Court where his appointees already hold a 4-3 majority.