We respect an independent, fair-minded judiciary. But the record of Justice David Stras of the Minnesota Supreme Court indicates he would be neither independent nor fair-minded if confirmed to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (“The case for David Stras’ federal court nomination,” June 4). Stras is clearly in the mold of an ultra-right-wing conservative, and his nomination by President Trump must be blocked.
It is shocking and far out of step with Minnesotans’ values that Stras once lamented in a law review article that the U.S. Supreme Court has ventured “into contentious areas of social policy — such as school integration, abortion, and homosexual rights.”
We are approaching the third decade of the 21st century. It can only be described as profoundly disturbing that Stras would label school integration “contentious” more than 50 years after Brown vs. Board of Education and that he implies the high court should not venture into ensuring rights for women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
His judicial pedigree similarly suggests that he would be a good friend to big corporations, the wealthy and the powerful at the expense of everyday Americans, women, minorities and marginalized people.
For starters, Stras is active in the Federalist Society, a national group of elite conservative lawyers that then-candidate Trump turned to for help in making a list of 21 potential U.S. Supreme Court candidates.
It is also unsurprising that Stras, a former clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas, was included on Trump’s list of backward-looking U.S. Supreme Court candidates. Stras has identified as a “mentor” this justice who, at least until Trump’s appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch, was the high court’s most conservative member.
Stras likewise applauded the approach of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who until his death last year was the high court’s conservative firebrand. “I really grew up with a steady diet of Justice Scalia, and I’m better for it,” Stras told the Federalist Society at a gathering.
From the bench, Stras has issued a number of highly questionable legal opinions. In 2015, for example, a dissent he wrote took a narrow view of the law to side with an insurance company over Cody Sleiter, an injured child who was involved in a tragic school bus accident that resulted in multiple deaths and injuries.
While Sleiter suffered injury and damages adding up to $140,000, Stras interpreted an ambiguous law involving underinsured motorist coverage limits to favor the insurer and would have let Sleiter recover only about $36,000. The Minnesota Supreme Court majority disagreed with Stras, however, saying the insurer’s stance “leaves victims insufficiently compensated for their injuries and unable to access the coverage limits they purchased.”
In a later case, League of Women Voters vs. Ritchie, Stras allowed Republican legislators to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would have made it more difficult for people to vote.
Stras sided again with Republican legislators in Limmer vs. Ritchie, allowing them to use emotionally laden and slanted phrases to label a constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriage. Its title was “Recognition of Marriage Solely Between One Man and One Woman.”
Other troubling actions by Stras include his ruling against government transparency in a case involving public access to Metro Transit videos; his dissent that a police officer could not sue Minneapolis over age discrimination even though the city’s delays in investigating his complaint ran out the statute of limitations clock, and his dissent that trial judges didn’t have a right in a rape case to permit expert testimony going against a defendant’s claim that the sex was consensual.
Although Stras is young, he already has compiled an inescapable paper trail. It is that of a judge driven by conservative ideology and falling short of judicial independence and evenhandedness. For all of these reasons, we urge Minnesota’s U.S. senators, Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, to oppose this nomination. Only if the Stras nomination is blocked can Trump be forced to consider naming a more moderate, compromise candidate for the all-important federal appeals court serving Minnesota and six other states.
Beth Gendler is executive director of the National Council of Jewish Women, Minnesota.