Trump taps Minnesota Justice Stras for federal appeals court

Elias Hubbard
May 13, 2017

Yesterday's nominees represent Trump's first major move to shift lower courts in a more conservative direction and follow the successful confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

It also elevates some rising legal stars who made it on to Trump's original list of 21 potential Supreme Court justices previous year, putting them closer to the nation's high court at a time when Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court's swing vote, is contemplating retirement and two liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, are long past the average retirement age.

Larsen also worked with the firm of Sidley and Austin in Washington, D.C., and served as deputy assistant USA attorney general who provided legal counsel to the George W. Bush administration in 2002 and 2003. Today, Trump is expected to announce nominations to several lower-profile but immensely important judgeships on the federal courts of appeals, which will also likely include names from that list.

Aides say the people on Trump's list include five nominees for USA appellate courts, the next level down from the nation's highest court, where judges often play a significant role in interpreting US laws. According to the senior administration official, they are Justice Joan Larsen of the Michigan Supreme Court and Justice David Stras of the Minnesota Supreme Court. His nomination is still pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Larsen was nominated to a seat on the federal appeals court in Cincinnati while Stras was tapped for the appellate court in St. Louis.

The administration's list was developed with heavy input from conservative think tanks the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society, who also helped the president put together his list of 21 potential Supreme Court picks to fill the void left by the death of Scalia previous year.

A Michigan Supreme Court justice in line for a big promotion didn't make a public appearance in suburban Detroit. She has written four Michigan Supreme Court opinions since she first started serving on the bench in fall 2015. Before serving on the commission she served as associate counsel to President George W. Bush from 2003 to 2006 where one of her primary responsibilities was assisting in the nomination and confirmation of federal judges.

"Donald Trump is honoring his commitment to gun owners that he will appoint judges that will protect Second Amendment constitutional rights", said Alan Gottlieb, SAF founder and vice president, in an email to Guns.com on Monday. He was appointed to the court in 2010 and was reelected in 2012.

Kevin Newsom is another Federalist Society pick, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice David Souter and served as solicitor general of Alabama.

Notably, this round of lower-court nominations does not address the two Texas vacancies that now need to be filled on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

In a separate development Monday, the Senate confirmed Trump's choice to be Air Force secretary.

Minnesota also has two district court vacancies, which are considered "judicial emergencies" based on the bench's caseload.

Two judges from that list were among the 10 nominees named Monday.

Conservatives should be especially pleased that President Trump has made the U.S. Courts of Appeal, the most influential courts after the Supreme Court, a priority.

Obviously the nine justices of the Supreme Court have the final say on what the law is, to paraphrase first Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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