Rev. Schultz's commentary, "Faith intersects with secular government, but must do so with restraint," on Jan. 25 gets the facts wrong, and assigns incorrect motivations to Alaska Family Action. Let's set the record straight on both counts.
Here are the facts: The constitutional amendment, proposed by Sen. Pete Kelly, would allow for more nonlawyer members on the Alaska Judicial Committee , thereby allowing the citizens of Alaska, through their elected representatives, a voice in selecting those who choose our justices.
In 1959, with a population of 220,000 people, while trying to convince a Congress questioning the abilities of Alaskans to establish and run a state, limiting judicial candidate selection to an unaccountable group of lawyers probably made sense. Today, with a widely divergent and well-educated population of almost 750,000 people, it doesn't. This amendment is necessary because, as much as we would like to imagine otherwise, for some time the council hasn't served as an honest broker. It has a history of violating the public trust; addressing the wants and desires of a rarified minority; ignoring divergent voices and views.
It is time to ensure the third branch of government is as reflective of Alaskans as the other two.
The current council has not been content with being gatekeeper for who is considered for judicial office. 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. This occurred despite Alaska statute AS 15.13.145(a), which prohibits the use of state funds "to influence the outcome of the election of a candidate to a state or municipal office." Judicial candidates are explicitly identified as "candidates" under AS 15.13.400(1)(A). The AJC violated Alaska Public Offices Commission rulings on nonpartisan information, when it clearly advocated a position in support of Tan, (in violation of 2 AAC 50-356(c)).
Furthermore, the AJC has a record of exceeding its "public education" budget, despite the fact that public law mandates that such funds must be "specifically" appropriated by the Legislature.
Unfortunately, these AJC shenanigans are not the only problem. The council possesses the muscle to restrict the judges Alaska's governor can even consider for appointment to the Alaska Supreme Court, and it uses it. The AJC is composed of three lawyers, three nonlawyers, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court (a lawyer). This leaves the process wide open to manipulation.
Its makeup ensures lawyers choose judges, an obvious conflict of interest. Furthermore, the AJC has demonstrably become more ideological and political over time. Lastly, the AJC publishes no minutes of its proceedings, preventing an open analysis of its discussions.
Rev. Schultz is new to the state. Perhaps he has been given bad advice, or misunderstands the implication of the changes being suggested. He implies that these changes are unnecessary and would benefit a small group of ideologues. This is completely incorrect. These changes would provide diversity for a heavily monolithic group. At-large members would be appointed by the governor. Currently, an independent, who ran with a Democrat, holds that office.
Alaska Family Action's support of Rep. Kelly's bill and the goal of reforming the council is simple: To preserve the concept of self-government. While we understand that Rev. Schultz is convinced the current AJC has good intentions, we would remind him which road is paved with them.
This shouldn't be a fight among Christians, or a contest to see who is more popular with the press. It should be a serious discussion among Alaskans about who should have the most say in judicial appointments: A small, unelected cadre of lawyers? Or the people, via the highest elected official of the state, supported by a vote of the Legislature?
Jim Minnery is executive director of Alaska Family Action.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com
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