Report: David Stras

Stras has shown little interest in protecting voting rights, ensuring access to the courts, promoting government transparency, protecting women, or guaranteeing that children with disabilities get the care they need.


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From the Alliance for Justice:


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There are also serious questions as to his potential partisan biases. Stras wrote an amicus brief on behalf of the Republican governor of Minnesota, who later appointed him to the state supreme court, arguing for tremendously expansive power for the chief executive to unilaterally spend less money than the Democratic-controlled legislature appropriated. As a Supreme Court Justice, he then sided with the Republican-controlled legislature in a dispute with the Democratic secretary of state, putting aside his purported commitment to strict textualism to ignore a statute that explicitly gave the secretary of state the authority to set titles for ballot measures. And, he again sided with the Republican legislature in its effort to put on the ballot a measure to make it more difficult for minorities and the elderly to vote, in language that was “phrased to actively deceive and mislead.”


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Under Minnesota law, the Secretary of State has the authority to “provide an appropriate title for each question printed on the [constitutional amendment] ballot.” Id. at 624. Secretary of State Ritchie decided to use the power to make the titles of both referenda less deceptive. He amended the title of the Voter ID ballot question from “Photo Identification Required for Voting,” which had been provided by the legislature, to “Changes to In-Person & Absentee Voting & Voter Registration; Provisional Ballots.” Id. at 625. And, for the same sex marriage ballot question, the legislature chose as a title “Recognition of Marriage Solely Between One Man and One Woman.” Secretary of State Ritchie changed the title to “Limiting the statue of marriage to opposite sex couples.” Id. at 625.


In both cases, ignoring the explicit text of the statute giving the Secretary of State the authority to set the title for each question, Stras (a purported textualist) sided with the Republican legislature in holding that the deceptive titles provided by the legislature must be used. The majority reasoned that because the Constitution vests in the Legislature the power to propose constitutional amendments, it has the right to choose the title (even a deceptive one).


Justices Page and Anderson, dissenting, noted the statute was clear that the Secretary of State is required to “provide an appropriate title.” Minn. Stat. § 204D.15, subd. 1 (2010).




From People for the American Way:



We are disturbed by Stras’ cramped reading of statutes that leads to results that are both absurd and unfair. For instance, in dissent he sided with an insurance company over a young boy injured in a school bus accident and would have limited the damages he could receive to only a quarter of the actual damages he suffered to his right leg, hip and lower back. Reaching this result in Sleiter v. American Family Mutual Insuranceii required misreading a state insurance statute and going against the clear objective of the legislature that passed it.

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Cody Sleiter suffered extensive back, leg and hip damage when a driver ran a stop sign and struck the school bus he was on, injuring 19 people. Cody’s damages totaled $140,000. The damages for all of the victims were $5.3 million, but the insurance coverages for the at-fault vehicle and the school bus didn’t go that high, adding up to only a little more than $1.1 million. Sleiter received a pro-rated share amounting to only $36,144, which didn’t even come close to covering his $140,000 in damages. Fortunately, Minnesota state law allows the purchase of “under-insured motorist (UIM) coverage” to make up the difference when the coverage available to an injured person from others’ insurance companies doesn’t provide full compensation. In this case, the Sleiters had purchased a policy from American Family that insured them for up to $100,000 in excess UIM coverage.


The Sleiters sought $65,456, to reach that limit, but American Family denied their claim because (they asserted) the “coverage available” to Cody from the other insurance companies wasn’t the amount he actually received ($36,144, because it was pro rata), but was instead the amount of the entire policy limits from the other insurance companies before it was split up among the 19 victims (over $1 million).


Stras agreed with the insurance company, saying the statutory language “limit of liability of the coverage available” unambiguously meant what American Family said it did. But Stras’ dissent pays insufficient attention to the rest of the phrase in the statute: it refers to the “limit of liability of the coverage available to the injured person.” As every other member of the court recognized, American Family’s interpretation was “unreasonable in the context of accidents involving multiple injured passengers” and “leaves victims insufficiently compensated for their injuries and unable to access the coverage limits they purchased.” Instead, they interpreted the law to give people “nothing more than access to the coverage that they have selected and purchased.”



From Lambda Legal:



Justice Stras’s record raises serious concerns about his willingness to comply fully with the rulings in many of the Supreme Court’s landmark LGBT rights decisions.


For example, Justice Stras has suggested that U.S. Supreme Court inappropriately “ventured” into addressing constitutional issues regarding marriage equality, dismissing constitutional protections for LGBT people as “social policy.” In that same 2008 article, Justice Stras expressed doubt about the core holding of Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 ruling that struck down Texas’s sodomy law as an unconstitutional deprivation of liberty. Justice Stras seemed to dismiss the well-established fundamental rights of liberty, privacy and self-determination at the core of the ruling when he noted that sodomy bans violated privacy rights, at least “according to the Court.”


Justice Stras’s own campaign website acknowledges his deference to “laws passed under the political process,” rather than what he characterizes as “political leanings or personal preferences” of judges.  This restrictive vision of the role of the courts tells vulnerable groups that, rather than turning to the Constitution, they must depend on the whims of governing majorities in order to vindicate their rights.


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For instance, Justice Stras joined an opinion that allowed a highly misleading characterization of the 2012 anti-LGBT Minnesota Marriage Amendment referendum to appear by holding that the Minnesota Legislature has the authority to override the judgment of the Minnesota Secretary of State no matter how inaccurate or misleading the title is, even though the Secretary of State had a statutory duty to ensure that titles reflected the actual content of the measure..  The Legislature’s title misleadingly stated—“Recognition of Marriage Solely Between One Man and One Woman”—rather than the Secretary of State’s title—“Limiting the Status of Marriage to Opposite Sex Couples.”




From the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:


Right-Wing Judicial Philosophy:  David Stras clerked for ultraconservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, whom he has called a “mentor.”[34]  In a speech to the Federalist Society, the far-right organization to which he has actively belonged since 2003, Mr. Stras said, “I really grew up with a steady diet of Justice Scalia, and I’m better for it.”[35]  Mr. Stras has even written in praise of early twentieth century Supreme Court Justice Pierce Butler, in a law review article entitled “Pierce Butler: A Supreme Technician.”[36]  Justice Butler was known as one of the “Four Horseman” for striking down New Deal laws and opposing minimum wage laws, and he was one of only two justices who voted to strike down Social Security.


In his 2008 law review article about the judicial confirmation process, Mr. Stras asserted that “the [Supreme] Court’s own ventures into contentious areas of social policy – such as school integration, abortion, and homosexual rights – have raised the stakes of confirmation battles even higher.”[37] Suggesting that the Supreme Court “ventured” into these areas – when core constitutional rights were properly raised in court by litigants – reflects a narrow and troubling view of a federal court’s jurisdiction, and a reflexive skepticism of the ability of federal courts to establish civil and human rights that some states have attempted to limit.  And in foreshadowing his own nomination by President Trump, Mr. Stras wrote: “[P]residents would not feel as much pressure to nominate candidates as close to their ideal policy points (and those of their political party) as possible if the federal courts were not as embroiled in deciding some of the most divisive social and cultural issues facing our country today.”[38]


Justice Stras’s extreme ideology earned him a place on the Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees that then-candidate Trump embraced last year.  Justice Stras, age 43, was on the original list of 11 recommendations.  During the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Trump created unseemly litmus tests and expressly stated he would only appoint Supreme Court justices who opposed abortion rights and gun safety laws.  Asked in a presidential debate if his Supreme Court appointees would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, candidate Trump said: “If we put another two or perhaps three justices on, that is really what will happen. That will happen automatically in my opinion. Because I am putting pro-life justices on the court.”[39]  In the same debate, he stated: “I’m very proud to have the endorsement of the NRA and it was the earliest endorsement they’ve ever given to anybody who ran for president….  We are going to appoint justices that will feel very strongly about the second amendment.”[40]  Justice Stras presumably passed these litmus tests.




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