Comedian, author, and Minnesota Senator Al Franken has vowed to use the “blue slip” tradition to block the vote on Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Stras, Trump’s pick for the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals.
According to tradition, the Senate will not hold a vote on a judicial nominee until both home-state senators have returned the blue slips that represent their consent for the pick. In the past, the wait for blue slips has delayed votes by months or even years.
Senator Franken is concerned by Stras’s long history working with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. “I am concerned that a nominee nurtured by such an ideology would likely seek to impose it on the litigants before him,” complains Franken.
“The president should be seeking out judges who bridge the issues that divide us. I fear that Justice Stras’s views and philosophy would lead him to reinforce those divisions and steer the already conservative 8th Circuit Court even further to the right.”
Franken’s move is forcing Republicans to decide whether to honor the tradition or eliminate yet another minority check, and conservative groups are putting pressure on Senate Republicans to move forward despite Franken’s efforts.
In the meantime, Democrats have been quick to remind Republicans that they observed the blue slip tradition when Obama was in the White House and GOP Senators objected to his picks. Four of Obama’s circuit court picks stalled out that way in 2016.
“It’s the prerogative of home-state senators to evaluate potential federal judicial nominees and determine whether or not they are mainstream and well-suited to hold these important positions of public trust, which have real-world consequences for their constituents,” argues Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
Despite the pushback from Franken and others, Stras seems to have widespread support.
“Justice Stras follows the law, he has broad support from across the political spectrum in Minnesota, he was re-elected by wide margins (wider margins than Senator Franken), and he even earned the highest rating from the liberal American Bar Association,” argues Carrie Severino, chief counsel for the Judicial Crisis Network.
Fellow Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar (D) believes the Senate should hold a hearing on Stras. After doing some research, “I learned that for the vast majority of the cases he has respected precedent and sided with the majority, which has included both Democratic- and Republican-appointed judges. He is also supported by former Supreme Court Justice Alan Page,” says Klobuchar.
If Straus doesn’t get his Senate hearing, the next step will be for the White House to make more nominations for the 8th circuit position.
On Tuesday, Senators confirmed Timothy Kelly as District Court Judge for the District of Colombia. Kelly is the second of 23 district judges nominated by Trump to get approved. Next up are Michigan Supreme Court Judge Joan Larsen and Amy Coney Barrett, who are scheduled to have confirmation hearings on Wednesday.
The state of Minnesota is still missing a US marshal, a US attorney, and two federal district court judges. Meanwhile, confirmations are still pending for over 30 of Trump’s picks for federal judicial nominees.
Author’s Note: The blue slip tradition was meant to be a minority control in an age when the majority trusted the minority enough to only use it in the face of extreme reservations about a judge. In this case, Al Franken has no credibility in saying he doesn’t like this judge. It is unlikely Franken would approve any judge picked by the Trump Administration. His intention is obstruction.