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 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.)
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.
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.