Stras moves toward confirmation to federal court judgeship

Posted 11:20 a.m. | Updated at 12:20 p.m.

Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras is on the verge of being confirmed to a federal appeals court post after winning committee backing Thursday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee's endorsement makes it likely he'll win confirmation from the full Senate to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. The committee's 13-8 vote for Stras included the support of Democratic Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

"I want to make clear he would not be my first choice for this job," she said in remarks ahead of the vote. "There were others that I had worked with over the years and knew that I would have suggested for this job. But morally when I look at this and have to answer the question is he qualified, could he serve on the 8th Circuit? I have to say yes."

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Klobuchar noted that Stras has had a record of collaborating with ideological opposites while on the state's highest court. And she said he hasn't had the "kind of hot-button, political, controversial writings or work that I see of many of these nominees that I have opposed."

The NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund criticized the committee votes in favor of Stras and two other federal courts nominees, saying they are "part of a coterie of anti-civil rights nominees" by the Trump administration.

"The Senate’s constitutional obligation to advise and consent on nominations is one of our last safeguards, and the Senate must do better than today’s deeply disappointing Judiciary Committee vote," said the group's president and director-counsel Sherrilyn Ifill. "Now the ball falls in the court of the full Senate. We call on the full Senate to stand up for the American people.”

University of Richmond Law Professor Carl Tobias, who closely tracks the federal nomination process, said derailing Stras would be difficult for opponents at this point.

"It would be extremely unlikely," Tobias said. "With Senator Klobuchar’s support, it is clear that he will be confirmed."

Stras has also appeared on President Trump's public list of potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees. His probable departure will give DFL Gov. Mark Dayton another pick to the state Supreme Court. Four of the current seven sitting justices are Dayton appointees.

Stras was nominated to the 8th Circuit last May. His selection was held up for a time by the opposition of then-Sen. Al Franken, another Minnesota Democrat. Franken had declined to return a "blue slip" giving his home-state blessing for the nomination to proceed, but Republicans on the panel moved ahead anyway and the vote happened after Franken resigned this month.

Klobuchar said new Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith met and interviewed Stras last week. She is not a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Republican Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy said he read several majority opinions and dissents of Stras and doesn't understand the objections to him, calling him "left of center but he cared about evenly applying the law to everybody."

"I think he'll make a good judge," Kennedy said.