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Meet Mr. Professor Justice David Stras

My apologies that I’m just getting around to posting these, but we have video of the May 13 press conference announcing the appointment of the new Minnesota Supreme Court chief Justice and associate justice David Stras. After four years on the high court, Gildea is fairly well-known in local legal circles. You are much less likely to know who Stras is, unless you spent some time in academia, went to some Federalist Society functions (where he was a regular speaker) or maybe caught him on radio/TV/webcast talking about (most likely) the U.S. Supreme Court appointment process.

In the video below, Stras speaks for the first time as a Supreme Court appointee, At 35, he may be the youngest high court pick ever. He is a former clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and obtained the prestigious distinction of Order of the Coif in law school. He is also believed to be the first justice to hold an MBA degree and to be a regular blogger.

For many of you, this will be your introduction to Stras, whom you will no doubt be getting to know better in the near future. By the way, this video resolves with finality at least one debate about Stras raging in the legal community since his appointment was announced. His last name is pronounced “Stross” (like “sauce”) and not “Straus” (like “house”). Hopefully that’s resolved now. Gildea has been a justice for four years and I still frequently hear her name mispronounced as “Gild-dee-a” when it should be pronounced “Gil-day.” Hopefully the learning curve on Stras’ name won’t be as long. If it is, however, I’m sure he won’t mind correcting you. He is a professor after all.

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  1. Mark,

    Stras has spoken a couple times to the MSBA Appellate Practice Section. I think both of them were about the then-upcoming US Sup Ct terms.

    Each time he focused on a handful of cases on the Court’s docket and did a formidable job explaining the facts of the case and the unsettled law that led to cert being granted.

    I was very impressed. He is definitely a scholar. He’s also a very interesting speaker. Those two qualities don’t always go together.

    I give the Governor points for doing something new, filling a Court seat with a scholar rather than a judge or practicing lawyer. Has that ever been done before?

    My only qualm is that I have children older than he is. And I’m not that old.


  2. Thanks Chuck. I planned a separate post on this, which I will do in a bit, but I have sifted through Professor Stras’ archived webcasts, debate transcripts and some of his research papers and I would concur on ths scholarly part.

    He’s smart, engaging and a scholar of the first order who speaks mostly on federal court issues. Although it’s pretty clear he’s what these days is classified as a “conservative” scholar (i.e. strict constructionist”), the analysis I have seen and heard so far is mostly on procedure and could have been written and presented by somebody of almost any political stripe.

    Of course different folks have different thoughts on what makes a good justice. He definitely adds something new.

  3. Stras is smart but so are a lot of people. His writings not only have nothing to do with Minnesota state law, for the most part they do not engage in legal analysis at all. Rather, they are “court watcher” pieces … e.g., why does the U.S. S.Ct. issue plurality opinions? What role do Justices’ law clerks play? etc.

    This is not to say that the pieces are not worthwhile or competent. It’s just to say that they provide no basis for an appointment based on interpreting the law. And they certainly provide no basis for an appointment to a _state_ supreme court.

    This is political jockeying, on the parts of both Stras & Pawlenty. Stras pushed like mad for this seat. And Pawlenty went for it, in no small part in the hope that Stras’ connections with D.C. & the Federalist Society could help him in his presidential dream.

    Finally, I wish that someone would begin to look beneath the surface on Stras … sure, people will go on record saying nice things. Plus, again, he’s perfectly bright (as are many lawyers in the state). But ask around, dig a little deeper … for instance, the man didn’t even grade his own exams at UMN for fall 2009. And this is a guy who won’t even reveal to his close friends how he feels about abortion, for fear of tainting his chances for a federal judgeship.

  4. Maynard Pirsig was appointed to the court in the early 40s, although he only sat on the court for a few months.

    Of course, Dean Pirsig also practiced law in Minnesota before being appointed to tbe bench.

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