Blue Slip Showdown: Stras Gets Senate Hearing Despite Franken’s Objection

Sen. Al Franken’s months-long attempt to stonewall the confirmation hearing of Justice David Stras came to an end last week.

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Sens. Chuck Grassley and Al Franken Credit: Screenshot from C-SPAN video

WASHINGTON – Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras faced the Senate Judiciary Committee last week despite Sen. Al Franken’s attempt to deny Stras a hearing.

Franken’s months-long attempt to stonewall the confirmation hearing of Stras came to an end last week when Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) overrode the “blue slip” tradition and granted Stras a hearing.

Back in May, President Donald Trump nominated Stras to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Since then, Sen. Al Franken has attempted to block the nomination by refusing to turn in his blue slip that would allow Stras to move forward with a Senate hearing.

In a turn-of-the-century tradition, the blue slip is a piece of paper sent to a senator by the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee when the president has nominated an individual from the senator’s home state. The blue slip gives the senator a voice in choosing to support or object the nomination. Without receiving approval from both of the state’s senators, a nominee will not receive a confirmation hearing.

Franken stalled the confirmation process for months before giving a resounding “no” in September. Citing concerns about the how Stras was selected and his similar ideologies to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Franken attempted to deny Stras a hearing through his blue slip objection.

Despite Franken’s disapproval, Stras was widely acknowledged as a good candidate to fill the vacancy in the federal court. Before joining the Minnesota Supreme Court, Stras was a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, specializing in federal courts. The American Bar Association (ABA) unanimously rated Stras “well qualified,” the highest rating given by the ABA. Stras was also on Trump’s shortlist to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court.

With his impressive credentials, many speculated Grassley would override the blue slip tradition, a decision the senator followed through on last month.

During Stras’ long-awaited hearing, the nominee received praise from Republicans and Democrats alike. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who introduced Stras during the hearing, praised the nominee saying she personally believed Stras deserved the hearing “because of his credentials.” Despite voicing some disagreement with Grassley’s handling of the blue slip tradition, Klobuchar called for “courtesy and cooperation” from her fellow senators.

“At this moment and time in our history, I believe that in some small way it’s important that we respect those we don’t always agree with,” Klobuchar said. “We must restore that respect for our courts and in this body and in this committee, offer courtesy and cooperation.”

While Franken started the hearing by lecturing Grassley on the blue slip tradition, parts of his remarks seemed to walk back his original objection to Stras. During the hearing, Franken described Stras as a “devoted public servant” and claimed his objections were not about Stras personally.

“I want everybody, you especially, to understand that my objection here was not about you personally,” Franken said to Stras during the hearing. Franken attempted to focus most of his objection on the president’s handling of the selection process.

Outside of the friction over the blue slip tradition, Stras’ was questioned on legal theory, his religious convictions, and his ability to rule impartially. Stras stressed his commitment to impartiality, calling himself “objective and open-minded.”

“I am deeply humbled by this opportunity,” Stras said. “If confirmed, I will remain committed to interpreting and applying the law in an impartial manner, as I have done for the past seven years as a justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee must vote to send Stras’ nomination to the full Senate for confirmation. A vote is not expected for several weeks.

Watch Stras’ full hearing here.

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