Monday, November 7, 2016

Out of State and Out of Touch: Juneau Empire Georgia-Based Corporate HQ is Meddling With the Alaska Supreme Court

Let it be known that the Juneau Empire's corporate HQ in Georgia (with or without the consent of local editors, likely without, but I don't know for sure) is meddling in the Alaska Supreme Court's judicial retention process. 

Regardless of who is responsible, the newspaper's non-endorsement of judges recommended by the Alaska Judicial Council is actually more offensive than the Trump endorsement because of its local impact and civic implications. 

The Empire suggests that two highly-respected Supreme Court jurists--Peter Maassen and Joel Bolger--should be fired by the people of Alaska simply for following the state and federal constitutions on abortion.

Let me explain why this is so troubling and so problematic, and believe it or not, it has nothing to do with abortion. This is a devastating civic proposition regardless of the issue involved and regardless of anyone's political or religious beliefs.

Alaska has one of the fairest and, for that reason, most envied judicial appointment processes in the country. For those who don't know, it is a hybrid system of appointment and retention elections enshrined in the Alaska Constitution and designed to prevent the very thing the Juneau Empire is endorsing: removing judges for political expedience based strictly on their legal rulings on social wedge issues, as opposed to problems with temperament or professional competence.

Here's how Alaska's system of judicial appointment and retention works, per the Alaska Judicial Council:
The Alaska Judicial Council is an independent citizens' commission created by the Alaska Constitution. The Council screens applicants for judicial vacancies and nominates the most qualified applicants for appointment by the governor, evaluates the performance of judges and recommends whether voters should retain judges for another term, and conducts research to improve the administration of justice in Alaska. Alaska Constitution Article IV, Section 8 provides that the Judicial Council has seven members. Three must be attorneys appointed by the Alaska Bar Association. Three cannot be attorneys and are appointed by the governor subject to confirmation by the legislature. These appointments are for staggered six year terms, must be spread over different areas of the state, and must be made without regard to political affiliation. The chief justice of the supreme court is the Council's seventh member and chairperson.
The Council, by the way, is recommending retention of Justices Bolger and Maassen. But the Georgia-based/influenced/dictated editorial board of the Juneau Empire knows better.

They are "concerned that the precedent set by Bolger and Maassen could interfere with the ability of parents to raise their children." Here is the Empire's full suggestion on the justices' retention, published November 3:
Alaska Family Action, a Southcentral religious group, has launched a campaign against Maassen and Bolger, who joined a majority of justices in ruling against a voter initiative that required the parents of minors seeking an abortion to be notified before an abortion is performed. Bolger and Maassen ruled that the Alaska Constitution’s privacy-protection clause includes children as well as adults. We are concerned that the precedent set by Bolger and Maassen could interfere with the ability of parents to raise their children. For this reason, we suggest a “no” vote on their retention.
What the non-endorsement leaves out (or fails to understand) is that judges in this state universally do their jobs in good faith and devoid of political influence, including the two justices impugned by the Empire. I'm highlighting the sentences above because they prove my point for me: the job of a judge is to rule based on precedent and they should not be fired simply for doing their jobs.

Regardless of whether you are pro choice or pro life, this should scare you. Removing judges from the bench because of a political witch hunt should outrage everyone on all ends of the political spectrum, as it did many of Alaska's religious leaders who wrote in October in the Alaska Dispatch that the judiciary must remain independent from faith and politics. 

If you're pro-life and considering voting "no" on Justices Bolger and Maassen consider this: what's to stop a judge whose decisions you agree with from being voted off the bench the next time around? And do you know what these justices' other decisions have been? How do you know you don't agree with those? And does it matter? 

The answer to that last question is no. It doesn't matter. A judge's job is to decide individual cases that come before the court based on statutes, the constitution, and case law interpreting both; and that is what our judges faithfully and consistently do all day, every day, at all levels of Alaska's truly excellent judiciary. 

The retention election fail-safe exists (and works) to fire judges who lack the temperament and professional competence to do their jobs. It is not meant to be wielded as a political tool to oust qualified judges whose well-reasoned legal conclusions don't comport with particular religious or political views at any given moment in time. 

That's why political witch hunts of judges have no place in our society. And it's why all of us should be saddened and troubled by the Empire's out-of-touch (and apparently out-of-state) endorsement of them.

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  1. ...time to make the Georgia corporation feel their mistake.

    Start with making it known that the advertisers supporting this should suffer.

    Once the advertisers are feeling the pressure, the corporation will also feel the pressure.

    Better yet, start another paper and take the all the ad revenue away.

    All it takes is the will to do it.

  2. The efforts to politicize the judicial process throughout the country has always been stronger with the rightwing's desire to control processes not allow them to be collectively decided upon. This is dangerous.


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