SJR3 an attack on Alaska judges, the Judiciary Council and judicial selection procedures

  • By Barbara McDaniel
  • Saturday, February 28, 2015 8:32pm
  • Opinion

Fairbanks Sen. Pete Kelly wants to change the Constitution of the State of Alaska, the section on judicial candidate appointment procedures. Senate Joint Resolution 3 (SJR3) will double the number of at-large, non-attorneys on the Alaska Judicial Council from three to six, but maintain the number of attorneys at three, and then require a majority vote to break a tie rather than a vote from the Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court. Alaskans need to reject SJR3.

In his Jan. 29 commentary, Sen. Kelly posed a secular argument supporting SJR3 while denying widely-held suspicions that he and Jim Minnery of Alaska Family Action (AFA) are pushing the amendment hard, hoping to make Alaska’s courts more vulnerable to AFA’s radical, ideological influence. At a Feb. 19 televised committee hearing, Sen. Kelly presented three non-ideological arguments to justify an urgent need to amend this section of Alaska’s constitution:

— The council needs more rural members. Sen. Kelly failed to show how doubling the number of at-large members is necessary to accomplish this goal. This argument is not relevant to the amendment because the existing language covers “due consideration to area representation” and no language related to rural members was changed or added to the amendment.

— The legislature should confirm the attorneys appointed to the Alaska Judicial Council. This debatable argument is too insignificant to necessitate the amendment and is not relevant to SJR3’s most dubious and primary element: doubling only the number of at-large, non-legal- scholars on the council.

— The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is an attorney and therefore a conflict of interest exists when she breaks a tie vote. Sen. Kelly wondered why more tie-votes between attorneys and at-large members were decided in favor of the attorneys in recent years. But he offered no explanation as to why that happened or how SJR3 could reduce such occurrences. While proving nothing, his question suggests that, despite our Chief Justice’s widely-respected expertise and documented outstanding record of appropriate decisions, she should not be trusted to evaluate and vote for or against an attorney who is a judicial candidate. Jim Minnery and AFA’s past attacks against retention of her and another judge should be seriously considered when evaluating the amendment’s merits and its sponsors’ motives.

In a recently published article supporting the amendment, Mr. Minnery also poses as a man motivated by secular reasoning. That is incredible as Mr. Minnery consistently presents himself as a religious-political activist who lives and breathes AFA’s hetero-patriarchal mission. That is, to change our laws, procedures, and regulations in order to inflict AFA’s beliefs regarding sexual relationships and behaviors and related education and services upon all Alaskans.

Mr. Minnery and his AFA group indicate they want our courts to support the sex-related beliefs and legal agenda they relentlessly postulate: Men may only sodomize women and vice versa. Sexual naiveté is good for youth, and public schools must not provide effective, age-appropriate sex education. The government must compel women to bear children against their will. Women with low incomes must not receive public assistance for affordable, accessible contraceptives. The Affordable Care Act must not provide comprehensive reproductive health care for women and men.

Notably, the AFA agenda omits ending physical violence and sexual assault against women. Apparently these epidemics are of little interest to AFA.

AFA evidently cooked up SJR3 and, along with Sen. Kelly, presented feigned, secular arguments of support in order to cover up AFA’s radical, ideological itch to gain influence over Alaska’s judiciary branch. AFA’s posed arguments do not adequately support amending Article IV Section 8 of the Alaska Constitution and neither does their ideology. Our existing judicial selection process, well-functioning since statehood, provides us a reasonable, non-ideological process reliant on reason, facts, legal expertise, and high legal standards to maintain a high-quality judiciary for all citizens. Alaskans must reject SJR3 and effectively maintain the existing, higher-standards of procedure for judicial selection in Alaska.

Barbara McDaniel is a life-long Alaskan resident and President of the Alaska National Organization for Women.

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