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Franken and Klobuchar Use Obscure Senate Ploy to Block MN Judge

The verdict has been virtually unanimous on President Trump’s nominee to fill the vacancy on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Current Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras’s stellar record and intellect surpass the qualifications for the job. He’s garnered bipartisan support from dozens of Minnesota attorneys and respected members of both political parties, including Gov. Mark Dayton, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page.

In fact, Stras is so highly regarded he was on the shortlist under consideration to fill Justice Anthony Scalia’s seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Yet three months after Stras’s nomination, petty politics on the part of Minnesota Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar continue to block the conservative jurist’s confirmation to the federal appeals court. The Democratic senators are hiding behind an obscure Senate tradition that essentially empowers them to obstruct the nomination process.

But the Minnesota politicians may be feeling the heat in the form of long overdue media attention, including the Associated Press.

Klobuchar and Franken haven’t given Stras their sign-off through so-called blue slips — a privilege given to home state senators before judicial nominations progress for final Senate confirmation.

The delay has caused outrage among Republicans in both Minnesota and in Washington, D.C., where Trump has accused Democrats in the Senate of blocking his nominations for judgeships and other top positions. Stras was one of 10 judicial nominations made at the time.

Klobuchar claims she’s still thinking it over. But the comparison with previous federal court nominees from Minnesota couldn’t be more stark.

By contrast, when then-Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Wilhelmina Wright was nominated to a federal judgeship by President Barack Obama in 2015, Klobuchar returned her blue slip the same day she received it. Franken returned his one day after getting it.

But Klobuchar denied blocking Stras’ appointment during an interview on Minnesota Public Radio News on Thursday, saying she’s met with Stras once already and plans to meet with him again before deciding whether to allow the nomination to proceed.

To his credit, Franken tacictly acknowledges the reason he’s holding up Stras’s nomination has nothing to do with the nominee’s qualifications. It seems Minnesota’s junior senator took it as a personal slight when the Trump administration circumvented the usual process of consulting home state senators prior to announcing a nomination to the federal bench.

A spokesman for Franken said this week that the Democratic senator is still reviewing Stras’ “lengthy record” before giving his approval, faulting the White House for putting Stras’ name forward without consulting his office about possible candidates.

“Rather than discuss how senators traditionally approached circuit court vacancies or talk about a range of potential candidates, the White House made clear its intention to nominate Justice Stras from the outset,” spokesman Michael Dale-Stein said.

In the Star Tribune, Congressman Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., calls out Franken and Klobuchar’s obstruction in a column that’s generating hundreds of comments from constituents.

Stalling Stras’ nomination is the latest example of partisan game-playing in Washington. By blocking his confirmation, the senators are keeping an outstanding legal mind off the Eighth Circuit court, and preventing another Minnesotan from joining a court where the majority of judges are from other states. This is unacceptable.

Along with many other Minnesotans from across the political spectrum, I urge Sens. Klobuchar and Franken to end their obstructionism and allow Stras’ nomination to proceed for a confirmation hearing and vote.

The more often senators invoke the blue slip for purely partisan reasons, the more likely it could become part of the broader discussion over Senate customs and rules like the filibuster that may have outlived their usefulness to the body politic.

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