Franken objects to Trump judicial pick in test of Senate tradition
Minnesota Sen. Al Franken (D) will oppose David Stras, President Trump’s nominee to serve on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, putting to test the Senate tradition of giving home-state senators veto power over judicial nominees.
Franken, in a statement released Tuesday, said he would not return the blue slip for Stras, who currently serves as a Minnesota Supreme Court justice, because of concerns over his conservative record and stated admiration for former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
“I have grown concerned that, if confirmed to the federal bench, Justice Stras would be a deeply conservative jurist in the mold of Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, justices who the nominee himself has identified as role models,” Franken said.
Trump nominated Stras to the 8th Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Minnesota, in May.
Franken praised the nominee at the time as a “committed public servant” but also voiced concern that he “relied heavily on guidance from far-right Washington, D.C.-based special interest groups.”
While Senate Democrats in 2013 repealed the power of the minority party to filibuster objectionable circuit-court nominees, the Senate still respects the so-called blue slip tradition whereby senators may effectively veto a judicial nominee from their home state.
Republicans used blue-slip objections to block several of President Obama’s nominees.
Franken on Tuesday pledged he would not return Stras’s blue slip, immediately putting his nomination into jeopardy.
“At an event hosted by the conservative Federalist Society, Justice Stras talked about how the jurisprudence of Justice Scalia helped to shape his own views,” Franken said in his statement.
“Justice Stras’s 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,” he said.
Franken complained that the White House had already settled on Stras as a nominee before reaching out to the senator and nominated him despite the concerns he raised.
“I fear that Justice Stras’s views and philosophy would lead him to reinforce those divisions and steer the already conservative Eighth Circuit even further to the right,” he argued.
Concerned Veterans for America, a GOP-allied grass-roots group that supported Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court earlier this year, immediately blasted Franken for obstruction.
“Senator Franken is obstructing justice over misguided partisanship. It is truly disheartening to see an elected member of Congress play petty political games with something as serious as our judiciary,” said Mark Lucas, the group’s executive director.
Lucas praised Stras as a “well-regarded jurist” who has served on Minnesota’s Supreme Court for years.
He urged Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to “bypass Franken’s grandstanding” and hold a hearing for Stras even if Franken or Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) do not return a blue slip for the nominee.
The fight will test the Senate tradition, which is under pressure after Democrats scrapped the filibuster for all judicial nominees below the level of Supreme Court in 2013 and Republicans eliminated the filibuster for Supreme Court picks earlier this year.
Conservative Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) argued in May that Republicans should consider getting rid of blue-slip objections if Democrats use them to block Trump’s nominees.
Some Republican senators have discussed narrowing the blue-slip rule to bar senators from blocking nominees to circuit courts that have jurisdictions spanning multiple states.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) issued a statement Tuesday defending the tradition.
“The purpose of the blue slip is to ensure consultation between the White House and home-state senators on judicial nominees from their states,” Feinstein said, calling on Grassley to “honor Sen. Franken’s decision.”
She noted that Democrats respected blue-slip objections under Obama.
Last year, Obama’s nominations of Abdul Kallon to the 11th Circuit, Myra Selby to the 7th Circuit, Rebecca Ross Haywood to the 3rd Circuit and Lisabeth Tabor Hughes to the 6th Circuit did not move because of blue-slip objections, according to Feinstein.
“If a nominee does not receive blue slips from both senators, the committee should not move forward,” Feinstein said.
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