Franken digs in against GOP over how judges are cho­sen

Clash heats up over power to veto court ap­pointees.

Star Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - By JEN­NIFER BROOKS jen­nifer.brooks@star­tri­ Min­neapo­lis, St. Paul MN • Vol­ume XXXVI • No. 191 • Oct. 12, 2017 star­tri­ • 612-673-4414 • 612-673-4000

NEWS TIPS: WASHINGTON – Se­nate Repub­li­cans are push­ing to make it harder for home-state sen­a­tors to de­rail ju­di­cial nom­i­na­tions. Sen. Al Franken is push­ing back.

The Min­nesota Demo­crat op­poses the nom­i­na­tion of Min­nesota Supreme Court Jus­tice David Stras to the Eighth U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals. Franken’s re­fusal to re­turn a so-called “blue slip” OK’ing Stras has ef­fec­tively scut­tled the nom­i­na­tion un­der Se­nate rules. Se­nate COM­MENTS: Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mc­Connell, R-Ky., said Wed­nes­day that he wants to re­write those rules.

“Re­gard­less of what tac­tics are used by Democrats, the judges are go­ing to be con­firmed,” Mc­Connell told the Weekly Stan­dard, ar­gu­ing that the blue-slip process should no longer be hon­ored. Repub­li­cans will treat a blue slip “as sim­ply no­ti­fi­ca­tion of how you’re go­ing to vote, not as an op­por­tu­nity to black­ball,” Mc­Connell added.

But the choice of abid­ing by or aban­don­ing the Se­nate’s long tra­di­tion of al­low­ing home-state

mem­bers to tor­pedo a ju­di­cial nom­i­na­tion rests with Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Chuck Grass­ley, R-Iowa, not Mc­Connell. Grass­ley has been a long­time sup­porter of blue slips.

“[I]n an at­tempt to stack the courts with right-wing judges, pow­er­ful spe­cial in­ter­ests and con­ser­va­tive groups are pres­sur­ing Se­nate Repub­li­cans to kill off the blue slip,” Franken said in a state­ment.

“In the face of this pres­sure, I urge Chair­man Grass­ley to demon­strate the same in­tegrity that [past Demo­cratic chair­man] Se­na­tor [Patrick] Leahy demon­strated and to pro­tect the pre­rog­a­tives of all sen­a­tors — Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic alike.”

Grass­ley spokesman Taylor Foy said that the se­na­tor has a tra­di­tion of us­ing blue slips, and “ex­pects sen­a­tors and the pres­i­dent to con­tinue en­gag­ing in con­sul­ta­tion when se­lect­ing ju­di­cial nom­i­nees.”

But the blue slip prac­tice is not guar­an­teed, he added, say­ing that Grass­ley “will de­ter­mine how to ap­ply the blue slip cour­tesy for fed­eral ju­di­cial nom­i­nees, as has al­ways been the prac­tice,” and would ad­dress “abuses” of the process “on a case-by-case ba­sis.”

Franken has said he finds Stras too con­ser­va­tive to sup­port. The Eighth Cir­cuit al­ready has a num­ber of con­ser­va­tive judges, he ar­gued. Franken’s Min­nesota col­league, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, has said she would have sup­ported the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pick to come to a hear­ing, but didn’t in­di­cate whether she’d vote to con­firm Stras.

A spokes­woman for Klobuchar said the se­na­tor “strongly be­lieves” that al­low­ing home state sen­a­tors to weigh in on ju­di­cial nom­i­nees is “an im­por­tant check and bal­ance and should re­main in place.”

The 43-year-old Stras is well-re­garded in Min­nesota ju­di­cial cir­cles as a thought­ful ju­rist open to work­ing with col­leagues from dif­fer­ent points of view. His own views are staunchly con­ser­va­tive. He clerked for Supreme Court Jus­tice Clarence Thomas and was on the Fed­er­al­ist So­ci­ety’s short­list of po­ten­tial U.S. Supreme Court nom­i­nees.

Both par­ties have abided by the blue slip tra­di­tion for the past cen­tury, with only rare ex­am­ples of judges mak­ing it to the bench with­out the bless­ing of both home-state sen­a­tors. It last hap­pened in 1989. Repub­li­can sen­a­tors with­held blue slips on 18 ju­di­cial nom­i­nees dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. In 2016, Mc­Connell re­fused to re­turn a blue slip for Ken­tucky Supreme Court Jus­tice Lis­a­beth Ta­bor Hughes, de­rail­ing her nom­i­na­tion by Pres­i­dent Obama to the Sixth Cir­cuit Court.

“I strongly urge Chair­man Grass­ley to de­fend the Se­nate’s con­sti­tu­tional pre­rog­a­tives and con­tinue hon­or­ing the blue slip process,” Franken wrote.

In ad­di­tion to the Stras stand­off, both of Ore­gon’s Demo­cratic sen­a­tors are block­ing Trump’s nom­i­nee to the Ninth Cir­cuit.

Mc­Connell’s com­ments come as con­ser­va­tive groups are press­ing him to more ag­gres­sively act to sup­port Trump’s ju­di­cial nom­i­nees. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port in Politico, the con­ser­va­tive Ju­di­cial Cri­sis Net­work is plan­ing to spend a quar­ter-mil­lion dol­lars on ads push­ing Mc­Connell to clear more of Trump’s nom­i­nees.

Stacked be­hind Stras, sev­eral other key posts in Min­nesota re­main va­cant. The state is wait­ing for the ad­min­is­tra­tion to nom­i­nate a new U.S. at­tor­ney, two district court judges and a new U.S. mar­shal.


U.S. Sen. Al Franken, top, is at odds with Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mc­Connell over the “blue slip” process.


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