Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Hopeful Signs from Stras Confirmation

Back in November, then-Senator Al Franken’s refusal to return a favorable blue slip on President Trump’s nomination of Minnesota supreme court justice David Stras led Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley to announce that he would not defer to Franken and that he would not allow senators to use the blue-slip process to block nominees for ideological reasons.

To my surprise, Senate Democrats did not use the Stras nomination to register their protest against Grassley’s blue-slip policy. In committee, both Amy Klobuchar (who returned a favorable blue slip on Stras) and Sheldon Whitehouse joined Republicans in favorably reporting the Stras nomination to the Senate floor. On the Senate floor, on both the cloture vote and the final confirmation vote, seven Democrats—Klobuchar, Donnelly, Heitkamp, Jones (recently elected in Alabama), Manchin, McCaskill, and Warner—voted with Republicans in support of the Stras nomination.

While I hesitate to draw grand lessons from a single nomination battle, it would sure seem that Chairman Grassley picked the right nominee to inaugurate his blue-slip policy. Yes, it helped that the initial allegations of Franken’s sexual abuses broke the same day that Grassley announced the policy. But the respect that Stras earned from his state supreme court colleagues across ideological lines, along with Klobuchar’s related decision to support his nomination, made him the ideal test case.

It’s also interesting that six of the seven Democrats (all but Warner) who voted for Stras are up for re-election this November. Their defections from the party line would suggest that, much as the lefty base of the Democratic party might wish otherwise, many voters in the center don’t want to see their senators voting against highly qualified judicial nominees.


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