U Supreme Court appointee: A ‘genuine, deep-seated’ lover of the law

University law professors David Stras was appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Supporters say Stras’ diligence and love for law qualify him for the position.

James Nord

University of Minnesota associate law professor David Stras, 35, said he was in disbelief two weeks ago when he got the call from Gov. Tim Pawlenty informing him he would be MinnesotaâÄôs newest Associate Supreme Court Justice. âÄúI think itâÄôs starting to sink in,âÄù said Stras last Thursday, hours after being fitted for his robes. At the University, StrasâÄô colleagues have praised him for his knowledge and dedication to law, as well as his prolific scholarship. Stras gained notoriety in February for co-authoring a friend-of-the-court brief supporting PawlentyâÄôs use of unallotments to balance the stateâÄôs budget deficit. The Supreme Court ultimately voted PawlentyâÄôs actions unconstitutional. Pawlenty appointed current Justice Lorie Gildea to replace the courtâÄôs outgoing Chief Justice, and Stras to take her place on the bench. Like Stras, Gildea voted to uphold the unallotments. In a statement, Pawlenty cited StrasâÄô âÄútremendous intellectual and legal abilitiesâÄù as the impetus for his choice. âÄúI will hope, though, that his appointment was not a payoff in the sense of he filed that brief and therefore, the reward âĦ was getting on the Supreme Court,âÄù said David Schultz, an adjunct associate professor in the Law School. Schultz said he doesnâÄôt think Stras wrote the brief to win the governorâÄôs support, and Stras said he doesnâÄôt know whether the brief had an effect on his appointment. Growing up, Stras said he was relatively certain he would be a lawyer, but earned both a law degree and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Kansas. He is the only lawyer in a family of entrepreneurs and businesspeople. While Schultz described Stras as âÄúvery conservative,âÄù Stras declined to comment on his political philosophy until after his formal appointment, which could be as early as July 1. âÄúHeâÄôs a very bright person, and âĦ he shares a judicial legal philosophy with the governor,âÄù Schultz said. A member of the Federalist Society, a conservative and libertarian law group, Stras said the purpose of the judicial branch is to safeguard citizensâÄô liberties. An early interest in public service drove Stras to pursue a career in law and teaching, he said. âÄúI always thought being a lawyer was a noble profession,âÄù Stras said. âÄúI also liked arguing with people.âÄù Stras has been licensed to practice law for about 10 years and was licensed in Minnesota less than a year ago. Beginning at the University in 2004, he has taught courses on constitutional and criminal law. Students have shaped him considerably, he said. While Stras declined to comment on his judicial priorities in his role as associate justice, his appointment could impact issues ranging from gay marriage to the role of the state constitution, Schultz said. âÄúHe will be a certain vote, I think, to uphold the ban on same sex marriage,âÄù Schultz said. Dale Carpenter, a Law School colleague of Stras, said his hard work translates beyond the classroom into scholarship and service. Stras was named co-director of the UniversityâÄôs Institute for Law and Politics in 2008. âÄúThatâÄôs a recognition of his ability and his hard work,âÄù Carpenter said. Stras has authored or co-authored at least two books and 14 journal articles. He also served as a clerk for United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, which he called a âÄúphenomenally difficult job.âÄù âÄúHe has a genuine and deep-seated love for the law and for legal doctrine and legal issues,âÄù Kristin Hickman, an associate professor in the Law School, said. Although he isnâÄôt a native Minnesotan âÄî Stras was originally drawn to the state by a job offer from the University âÄî he said heâÄôs excited to serve on its highest court. âÄúI think weâÄôve made a home in Minnesota,âÄù he said, âÄúand I really feel like a Minnesotan now.âÄù