Supreme Court Justice David Stras is seeking his second term
By ERIN ELLIOTT BRYAN / Community News Editor
On Nov. 6, voters across the nation will cast their ballots on a variety of issues. In addition to the race for president, voters in Minnesota will be asked to consider two constitutional amendments, U.S. and state legislators, and members of the judiciary.
Stras is currently serving his first term on the court, having been appointed by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, in 2010, to fill a vacancy left by then Chief Justice Eric Magnuson (Pawlenty elevated Lorie Skjerven Gildea to Chief Justice and Stras took Gildea’s place).
“Judicial elections are nonpartisan. I view my job as nonpartisan. I do not view myself as a politician despite the fact that I’m running for office,” Stras said in an interview with the AJW. “Because I was appointed by Gov. Pawlenty people associate me more with the Republican side of things, but probably the [campaign] chair who does the most work for me, as part of this election, is Charlie Nauen, who is a lifelong Democrat.”
Stras said one of the most important parts of his campaign was to form a committee of people from all political persuasions. In addition to Nauen, who has served as an attorney for Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken, Stras’ committee is almost equally divided between Republicans and Democrats; and he has two members of each party serving as the chairs of his committee.
David Stras: I’ve taken a special interest, both on the personal side and even on the professional side when I was a law professor, in some of the issues surrounding Holocaust survivors.
“Our message is, this is a nonpartisan office, as evidenced by the bipartisan group I’ve put together, and my job is not to please any political party or to favor any special interest groups or to take stands on divisive political issues,” Stras said. “That’s not my role as a judge. My role as a judge is to decide each case as it comes before me in accordance with the law, regardless of who wins or loses.”
Stras, 37, is a native of Wichita, Kan., and he said that no one in his family is a lawyer or involved in the law in any way. But Stras was always interested in politics and had a strong understanding of the structure of government and how it worked — and he enjoyed watching syndicated episodes of Perry Mason.
He received his B.A. from the University of Kansas in Lawrence, in 1995. He earned both an M.B.A. and law degree from KU, in 1999.
Following law school, Stras clerked for Melvin Brunetti of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Reno, Nev., and later for J. Michael Luttig of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Alexandria, Va.
He then practiced white-collar criminal and appellate litigation for one year with the firm of Sidley Austin Brown and Wood in Washington, D.C. From 2002-2003, he clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
“At that point, I’d lived west, I’d lived east and I’d, of course, lived in the Midwest,” Stras said. “I decided, You know, what would be really fun is to try the South. So I actually lived in Alabama for a year and taught at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. I was a faculty fellow at Alabama. That was an interesting experience, it was a fun experience, and it was a great entrée into teaching law students.”
In 2004, Stras took a position at the University of Minnesota Law School, where he taught courses in criminal law, constitutional law and the U.S. Supreme Court, among others. He also served as co-chair of the university’s Institute for Law and Politics.
Stras earned tenure in 2008, and became a full professor in 2010 — the same day, actually, that Gov. Pawlenty appointed him to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
When Stras was sworn in as the newest associate justice, he placed his hand on the Tanach (the Jewish Bible). He is a member of Bet Shalom Congregation and the Twin Cities Cardozo Society, and tries to attend as many community events as he is able.
“Unfortunately, my position as a judge keeps me from doing other things,” Stras said. “For example, I would love to be able to help JCRC, but because of their political nature, it’s something that I can’t do. A lot of the things that I’d like to do around the community are things that just don’t ethically fit within my judgeship.”
Stras’ wife, Heather, is a social worker at Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis (JFCS), and the family is a member of the Sabes JCC; both of his children attended preschool there.
Stras is also the grandson of Holocaust survivors. His paternal grandmother was from Hungary and his paternal grandfather was a professional soccer player in Germany. They met in a displaced persons’ camp and later immigrated to Kansas City.
“I’ve taken a special interest, both on the personal side and even on the professional side when I was a law professor, in some of the issues surrounding Holocaust survivors,” Stras said. “That’s a real important thing because I grew up listening to some of the stories that my grandfather and my grandmother would tell me. That was an important part of my childhood, understanding what went on during the Holocaust and dealing with some of those issues.”
Though it’s safe to say that Stras is the first practicing Jew on the Minnesota Supreme Court, there is some confusion about whether Lee Loevinger, who served on the court from 1960-1961, was Jewish. Mark Cohen, writing for Minnesota Lawyer, researched the subject and concluded that Loevinger’s father was Jewish, but Loevinger himself attended Unitarian services.
When Minnesotans go to the polls on Nov. 6, Stras believes they should vote for him for three reasons: his independence and impartiality; his experience on the court, as a clerk and as a law professor; and the fact that he loves the job.
“I like sitting around and thinking about really important legal issues,” Stras said. “I feel very strongly that the job allows me to serve the citizens of Minnesota, and I think that’s important, too.”
For information on Supreme Court Justice David Stras’ campaign, visit: justicestras.org.
(American Jewish World, 10.12.12)