Children Playing with Matches: Senator Kelly’s “Fix”

Senator Pete Kelly (R, American Family Council) wants to amend the Alaska Constitution to change the Alaska Judicial Council. He dislikes the way state judges are selected. Not because the selection process is broken, not because it gives us bad judges; no, he wants to change it because the judges don’t give him the results he wants. He’s a sick, deranged kid, playing with plastic explosive.

The delegates to the Alaska Constitutional Convention were among the best thinkers in the Territory. As they drafted the Alaska Constitution, they consulted with the best minds in political science. When it came to laying ouf the Judicial Branch of state government, they worked hard to avoid the pitfalls of politicizing the judge selection process. while still preserving accountability to the voters. And they were immensely successful. Alaska has, since statehood, had an ethical, competent, uncorrupted judiciary. The same cannot be said of our state legislature.

The Constitution creates the Alaska Judicial Council, composed of three lawyers, selected by Alaska Bar Association, and three laypersons, selected by the Legislature. The Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court, selected by the five state justices, is the ex officio chair.  The seven members screen applicants and send names to the governor. It is a very thorough process; ask anyone who has been through it. The governor makes an appointment from the names sent. Not all of the judges have been perfect. But in comparison to, say, Illinois, where WC went to law school, and where some judges have sold themselves like cheap whores, our judges are near-perfect.

However, Senator Kelly doesn’t want an ethical, competent, uncorrupted judiciary. He wants judges who have already made up their minds on the issues that come before them. Senator Kelly wants judges who will ignore precedent and rule abortion illegal. He wants judges who will not strike down his hare-brained encroachments on our civil rights and freedoms. He wants litmus tests. He wants judges who will do what he wants, not what the law, the Alaska Constitution and the U.S. Constitution require. He wants judges who will prejudge the law and the facts, who won’t keep their oaths to obey the law, who are in fact corrupt.

To achieve that corrupt end, he wants to pack the Alaska Judicial Council. He wants to increase the number of lay seats so that he can put cronies on the Council, who will do what he wants, who will select judges who support his views.

He’d increase the number of lay members from three to six. He’d change the rules so that all members, not just the lay members, are approved by the Legislature. Senator Kelly thinks we’ve already forgotten the Corrupt Bastards Club. In his effort to corrupt the judicial selection process, he has forgotten – and ants you to forget – the importance of having more than one group select the members of a critical organization. His proposed constitutional amendment is intended to give the Alaska Legislature control of the judicial branch. You know from junior high school civics classes that’s a bad idea.

If you think that Senator Kelly is an altruist, motivated by something other than his own narrow ideology, you aren’t paying attention. Jim Minnery, the executive director of Alaska Family Action, a Christianist political action organization, tried to justify Senator Kelly’s legislation. The excuse he offered was his organization’s loss in a court case. In his Alaska Daily Dispatch opinion piece, Minnery told his readers,

In 2012, Alaska Family Action informed Alaskans that Judge Sen Tan, up for retention, had overturned Alaska law requiring parental consent for a minor to obtain an abortion. In response, the “unbiased” AJC purchased print campaign ads in ADN in support of Judge Tan even while smearing Alaska Family Action.

Judge Sen had ruled against Minnery’s unconstitutional effort to limit abortion rights, so he had to go. What he didn’t admit is that his Alaska Family Action ambushed Judge Sen, launching its attack against him only two weeks before the election. The Alaska Judicial Council corrected the misstatements of fact. More importantly, Minnery is complaining about Judge Sen’s retention, not his selection. Minnery’s excuse doesn’t justify altering the composition of the Judicial Council; his complaints have nothing to do with selection. Even assuming the truth of Minnerys claims, even assuming Minnery should get away with ambush political advertising, it’s no basis for altering the Judicial Council.

No one, not Senator Kelly, not Jim Minnery, no one, has pointed to an instance in which the Alaska Judicial Council has proposed a corrupt or unqualified candidate, or failed in any way to function exactly as the Alaska Constitutional Convention intended. They have no evidence that the Alaska Judicial Council is “broken” so badly as to require the drastic action of a constitutional amendment. Examined closely, Minnery and Senator Kelly are unhappy that the Alaska judges are upholding and enforcing the law, and that the Alaska Judicial Council refused to let Minnery’s Christianists get away with ambush tactics in a judicial retention election.

The best evidence that the Alaska Judicial Council doesn’t need to be changed is that it is effectively protecting us against the nasty tactics and shoddy tricks of ideologues like Minnery and Senator Kelly.  The Alaska Judicial Council doesn’t need to be “fixed” because it is broken.

It specially doesn’t need the kind of corrupt “fix” that Senator Kelly has in mind.