When Associate Justice David Stras was appointed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty to the Minnesota Supreme Court at the tender age of 35, liberal eyebrows shot up. Stras was active in the conservative Federalist Society and had been a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Critics cast him as a right-wing ideologue.
It's to Stras' credit that little such muttering ensued Monday when President Trump nominated him when Judge Diana Murphy moved to senior status on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. During seven years on Minnesota's high court, Stras won over the skeptics with well-reasoned, nonideological opinions that exhibit respect for written law. He's well-liked by his peers and amply qualified for service on the Eighth Circuit Court.
That said, we share the lament of the Infinity Project about lack of diversity on the Eighth Circuit bench. If confirmed, Stras will be the 63rd judge to serve on the court. All but two have been male; only one has been a person of color. That overrepresentation of white males is a problem for the courts that the Infinity Project was created to expose and solve. A grass-roots advocacy organization founded in Minnesota a decade ago, the project holds that the courts better serve the public when those on the bench bring a range of life experiences and are widely representative of society.
Since 1979, Minnesota governors have used screening commissions to help identify qualified candidates with diverse backgrounds. At the federal level, Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, both Democrats, engaged a screening panel to advise them and Democratic President Barack Obama on Minnesota appointments to the bench. Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen has organized a similar group for the Trump presidency. But Paulsen's commission wasn't visibly involved in the Stras appointment, said Debra Fitzpatrick of the Humphrey School Center for Women, Gender and Public Policy.
Three of the 10 judicial nominees Trump advanced Monday are women. We hope that means he's not oblivious to the Infinity Project's concerns, and that he will strive for more diversity on the Eighth Circuit bench with future nominations.