There has been some controversy surrounding Governor Sarah Palin’s appointment to the Alaska Supreme Court.  She appointed Anchorage Superior Court Judge Morgan Christen to fill that vacancy.

The jist of that controversy:

The head of the Alaska Family Council — a Christian pro-family, anti-abortion group — on Wednesday sent an e-mail to thousands of people asking them to urge Palin to pick Smith, not Christen.

….

The family council plea, from group president Jim Minnery, said Smith was “more conservative” and that Christen would be “another activist on the Court.” In an interview, Minnery said that was the “general consensus” but he had no specifics.

….

Christen’s application included her membership in several charitable groups, including some from her past, but did not mention that she was on the board of Planned Parenthood in the mid-1990s. The organization, which didn’t provide abortions in Alaska until 2003, is now on the opposite side of a Palin-supported bill to require girls under 17 to get parental consent for an abortion.

My first thought was… what the heck?  I also has somebody comment to that effect and have received a couple of e-mails.  I refrained from blogging on this until I had some more information because it seemed strange.  Let’s get all of the facts and avoid knee-jerk reactions.  I feel compelled to comment on this because I’m afraid that if she does run in 2012 this will be used against her in the primaries.  If so it would be done in ignorance.

First a big hat-tip to Conservatives 4 Palin.  They have done an excellent job researching this issue (and many others).  I encourage you to read their posts on this topic here and here since I’m not going to include everything.  If you don’t subscribe to their blog, you really should. 

My intent is to nip this in the bud.  First we need to understand the constitutional process.  The fact is that Governor Palin does not have the authority to appoint just any judge to the bench.  She can only appoint those who are recommended to her by the Alaska Judicial Council.  According to the Alaska Constitution:

§ 5. Nomination and Appointment
The governor shall fill any vacancy in an office of supreme court justice or superior court judge by appointing one of two or more persons nominated by the judicial council.

§ 6. Approval or Rejection
Each supreme court justice and superior court judge shall, in the manner provided by law, be subject to approval or rejection on a nonpartisan ballot at the first general election held more than three years after his appointment. Thereafter, each supreme court justice shall be subject to approval or rejection in a like manner every tenth year, and each superior court judge, every sixth year.

The council looked at six candidates and then narrowed the finalists to two for Governor Palin to choose.  She took the unprecedented step of asking for everything the Council had on the two finalists.  According to the Anchorage Daily News.

Extensive information about the two finalists was sent to the governor with the nominations on Feb. 5. It included, among other things, references, Alaska Bar Association survey details and record of community service.

Last week, the governor’s office asked the Judicial Council for everything it knew about the nominees, including the “application for this or any other judicial appointment, for retention election, or for any other purpose.”

While governors sometimes have questions about nominees, none had ever made such a sweeping request, Larry Cohn, Judicial Council executive director, said.

Neither candidate was ideal.  Though not everybody agrees with the Alaska Family Council’s opinion of Christen.  She couldn’t ask for more candidates.  Palin’s predecessor, Governor Frank Murkowski, tried and failed.

Former Gov. Frank Murkowski once rejected all three nominees sent to him, then, when the council wouldn’t send him more names, appointed from the list.

Governor Palin via SarahPAC responded to the critics of this appointment through her Facebook page.

Gov. Palin is totally pro-life. Always has been. Always will be. She believes in a culture of life from cradle to grave. Her choice for Supreme Court judge was made in accordance with Alaska law. She chose the person most qualified from the names sent to her. The Governor’s choice has a record of fairness. That is important as the courts sort out some very thorny issues. Governor Palin’s choices were either a liberal or an independent. She went with the independent. And as the following article reflects – this selection process is flawed.

They then cited this article by Bob Flint in the Catholic Anchor online (you’ll need to scroll down).  Mr. Flint is a member of the Alaska Bar Association, and an attorney in Anchorage, Alaska, he concludes:

The judicial selection process is clearly flawed and in need of substantial reform. It was undoubtedly an error to entrust the choice of such important public offices to the bar association.

If the legal profession and the judges who come from it would respect their role in the democratic system, the current system would work, but that has proved impossible. The temptation of power is simply too great.

Short of a Constitutional amendment, the public and the governor can demand transparency in the entire nominating process, the creation of standards by which nominations are made, the elimination of ideological considerations and the nomination of the maximum number of candidates, not the minimum.

Even Tom Minnery of the Alaska Family Council realizes the problem is the process, not Palin.  From LifeNews.com:

Minnery says he is not upset with Palin and says the fault lies with the Judicial Council for sending her no candidates that his group could really get behind. he says Palin should have had the option of selecting the best person for the job rather than being limited to the choices the Council sent her.

Minnery acknowledges he doesn’t have hard evidence that Smith would have been a better choice.  Governor Palin made the best possible choice she could with the information she had, and between the choices she had.

So to my fellow pro-lifers, please get all the info before throwing people under the bus before deciding to dismiss her as a potential candidate.  (Lisa pointed out that what I originally wrote was too harsh – a “strong overreaction”, and could be interpreted to mean something I didn’t intend.  I was thinking of a potential reaction, and did not mean people who wanted answers.  Thanks for the accountability Lisa.)

Thanks again to Conservatives 4 Palin – they have much, much more back ground info here and here.  Be sure to read both posts.

Update 3/8/09: A couple of examples of why I wrote this post.

Example #1 – Paul Begala and Nicole Wallace discussing Palin’s court pick with Wolf Blitzer.

 

Begala seemed to have a better understanding of what was going on.  Nicole Wallace is absolutely clueless.  Overall because of Begala I think it ended up being a pretty positive piece for her.

To Wallace – we don’t want her “bucking” values we hold dear.  This is an example of why the McCain ticket lost, staffers like her.

Example #2 – to get the information out, not faulting the negative reaction, but move past that reaction by getting facts. 

If you still aren’t satisfied, well so be it.  I had to do the same thing for Governor Mike Huckabee when he was getting creamed by Club for Growth (and look who we ended up with when people listened to them).  I still think she is the real deal, and like most who come here, had concern about this appointment until I learned more.  I still don’t like it, but I think the other guy is just as bad.

Ramrocks over at Conservatives for Palin noted today as well:

However, it should once again be noted that Smith is likely as liberal on abortion as Christen may be. We simply don’t know what they believe. We assume that they are liberal on this issue. It’s difficult to imagine a pro-lifer sitting on the board of Planned Parenthood; however, Christen did so at a time when the organization did not perform abortions in Alaska. She did not list her Planned Parenthood board membership in the application she submitted to the Alaska Judicial Council for consideration for the Supreme Court appointment. Some might say that this was calculation on her part because she knew that Sarah Palin would be making the final decision between the names submitted by the AJC. However, Christen also omitted any mention of her association with Planned Parenthood on her 2001 application for the opening on the Anchorage Superior Court. The governor at that time was Tony Knowles, a liberal Democrat and vocal proponent of abortion. Her connection with Planned Parenthood wouldn’t have hurt her with Knowles; in fact, it might have helped. But she did not list it. Perhaps she did not want to appear to be taking sides on this issue. To openly take a position on this or any other social or political issue would disqualify her from consideration. Either way, it’s food for thought.

13 comments
  1. Nice article, Shane! You distilled the issue to its essence while not shorting either side or coming across as a mindless idealogue. Thanks so much for disseminating this info–great job!

  2. Thanks Cathy! When I first heard I had to admit I was not happy with Governor Palin, but it seemed strange. Having the background info puts this in a different light. If Alaskans are upset about the process they need to amend their constitution. While it served a good purpose earlier, to keep politics out of the judicial process, I believe that has been corrupted by the Alaska Bar Association (and subsequent pool of appointees for the Council) taking a leftward slide.

  3. Good research Shane!

    “Alaska Family Council” – one Dobson's groups? Doesn't surprise me that these folks became part of the problem. Most of this kind of focus seems to be mostly rhetorical.

  4. I'm not sure if they are affiliated with Focus on the Family or not. I'm thinking if there wasn't a clear distinction between the two candidates he shouldn't have even weighed in. Just because Christen belonged to Planned Parenthood's board doesn't mean the other guy wasn't just as bad, if not worse.

  5. Also have to give the credit to Conservatives 4 Palin for the research. They do an excellent job there. I think I know as much about Alaska politics now as I do Iowa politics thanks to them.

    I'm glad they dug into this because without the appropriate facts this could be a major liability if she decides to run in 2012. Which in this case wouldn't be fair.

  6. I think it is a considerably strong overreaction to suggest that people “threw Palin under the bus”. I didn't see anyone doing that and what I posted myself was that it was “unthinkable” and “shocking” and that I wanted answers. I intentionally posted a sense of outrage because people expect us to be fair in our criticisms with the candidates we support as we are with the candidates we do not support. Throwing someone under the bus is when you attack them for something they didn't do. Expressing shock, dismay and demanding answers is not “throwing someone under the bus”.

  7. That certainly isn't what I meant by “throw her under the bus.”

    I do see your point, and I certainly didn't mean to offend you nor say you were wrong for wanting answers.

    You are right that people want us to be fair in our criticisms.

  8. Hi, Shane. I understand. I've worked so hard in the pro-life movement for so long….. have been a lobbyist in my state legislature and have been “stabbed in the back” so many times by ostensibly pro-life politicians that I have developed an attitude about things like this. So, I'm coming from a background like that. I probably shouldn't have actually posted my thoughts on my blog, but I did and it's all over now. Thanks.

  9. Shane, I have been following your blog and I really like it. But, man, you have go to quit apologizing for Palin. I'm not talking about the general election on the McCain ticket, but what she has done since then. I know she is a good governor of Alaska with her head screwed on straight on the issues. But she is far from demonstrating the “bold colors” of the Republican party and she is being propped up for something she's not.

    First, there is her support/non-support/support of the stimulus. I mean, come on, we need somebody who stands firm for something. Isn't she supposed to be a Maverick? I know her actions in regards to the stimulus can be defended and reasoned away, but is this they type of Republican we want on the front burner?

    Now there is her Supreme Court nominee. Defend it anyway you want and it all may be true, but she could have at least gone down kicking and screaming. I mean it's PLANNED PARENTHOOD for crying out loud and the other choice sucked too. She has some clout and could have been a real leader and fought it a little bit instead of bending over and singing her nominee's praises. I thought she was a reformer. Like I said, she may have lost anyway but she would have least stood on her principle with a fight. Is this the type of Republican we need right now?

    As for as the social issues go, I know she takes the pro-life/pro-family stance in her personal positions, but what has she done as governer to advance these issues? Does Alaska hava marriage amendment or a human life amendment? If not, is she pushing for them? Just because someone has a passisionate position on an issue in their personal life does not mean it will be a conviction in their political career.

    Our party is in trouble because too many Republicans have comprimised principles. We don't need anymore of those who need to be apologized for.

    Just my two cents worth!

  10. I appreciate the feedback. I'm sure I'll be cutting back because this isn't a Palin blog. I still think she'd make a potential good candidate. So would Huckabee, so would JIndal, and potential others.

    Well I'd answer you're objections, but then I'd be “apologizing” again, LOL.

    I remember having to do quite a bit of that for Huckabee too.

  11. At least with Huckabee you had his record to fall back on to show where he was getting the shaft. He had almost 11 years under his belt as governor to prove why you were apologizing, but Palin does not have that to back her up. Not her fault, but that's just the facts. I like Jindal too, but once again, I would like to see more of a record because that is how I believe we can truely judge what someone will do and not by what they say.

    One thing I do know is that we need a governor to run for president next time around and not a senator (unless that senator has really stirred it up and can show he's not the same ole, same ole).

  12. Very true, but one thing that we did have to do is demonstrate the context of Arkansas politics. The same is true with Alaska.

    As far as her record goes, and Jindal for that matter, they both will have more time. Right now Alaska is in good shape because they did not increase spending the previous two years – that was under her leadership. She is also behind a parental notification law as well. She's done a number of things and I hope many more in the future that we can point to.

    And Jindal too.

    I agree that it needs to be a Governor. We need somebody with executive experience because Obama is demonstrating that Senators are not up for the job. It is quite a leap to go from running and leading nothing to being the chief executive of a nation such as ours. Being a Governor gives you great hands-on experience.

    Even if they are senator who has stirred it up it is just rhetoric. They may have voted well, but will they lead well? That's an entirely different skill set.

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