Community Perspective

Alaska’s courts have become politicized

Alaska’s courts made the news again when the Anchorage Daily News published a report showing Alaska Chief Justice Joel Bolger appealing to the Alaska Federation of Natives for help in the courts’ ongoing saga with Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

The report quotes Justice Bolger’s speech and a letter Alaska’s Supreme Court sent the Legislature in July claiming both political independence and ultimate authority in constitutional issues.

The idea that Supreme Court justices are the final arbiters of what is or is not constitutional seems logical when stated by the chief justice of the Alaska State Supreme Court.

But when you stop to consider that it was elected politicians and not unelected lawyers (judges) who wrote Alaska’s Constitution and now execute the laws formed under the constitution, it seems that the courts may have elevated themselves a bit too far.

If the courts do indeed have supreme authority over the 50 state constitutions and the U.S. Constitution, then why would our elected representatives take an oath to uphold and defend the constitution rather than the courts’ opinions, decisions, and orders?

If the courts have supreme authority over the Alaska constitution, then why does the Alaska Constitution place the courts under the authority of the Legislature in Article 4, Sections 1 and 12?

Finally, if the Legislature used that authority to limit the courts’ jurisdiction or even impeach a judge, would the courts submit to that authority or impose their own political will as they have done time and again?

That’s actually a very relevant question, since Chief Justice Bolger has both written and spoken as recently as Oct. 18 on the issue of the courts’ essential independence from political accountability.

At issue is the subject of abortion, abortion funding and Gov. Dunleavy’s veto of the courts’ budget of $334,700 — the exact amount the courts ordered the state to pay abortionists to kill 805 babies in 2018.

The courts responded to that veto with a letter in July claiming the governor’s veto was an invasion of the courts’ ability to “render independent court decisions based on the rule of law, without regard to the politics of the day.”

While the courts, and now specifically Chief Justice Bolger, claim to operate within the rule of law and independent of the politics of the day, I would submit that the courts have operated outside the rule of law and are deeply entrenched in the politics of the day.

Consider the string of court cases from 1997-2019 in which the courts amended the constitution, took the Legislature’s authority over privacy rights and appropriations and blocked the Legislature from exercising those authorities.

It seems the courts want to operate independently of the rule of law, maintain their independence while taking political action, and now have appealed to the Alaska Federation of Natives to come to their aid.

Sadly, the news report stated that AFN President Julie Kitka said the “AFN stands ready to respond to Bolger’s request.”

Now that Chief Justice Bolger has openly appealed for political independence from the consequences of the courts’ political actions, we now see that he is blatantly enlisting political support from a group that is nearly untouchable from political criticism. If the AFN follows his advice, it will demonstrate a flagrant disregard of its own pro-life and conservative members — and once again prove that it has become a pawn of the power-hungry left.

But the AFN won’t be the courts’ only protector: The court’s appeal for relief from the governor’s abortion-focused veto of its administrative budget was answered by the ACLU of Alaska back in July. Led by former Chief Judge Sen Tan, the ACLU filed suit against Gov. Dunleavy over his veto of the court’s budget.

And now the independence of the Alaska Court System will be proved on whether it even takes the case the ACLU filed on its behalf. Just imagine presiding over a lawsuit in which you’re the beneficiary of a victorious suit. The courts’ political independence and operation under the rule of law, or its own blatant hypocrisy, are now at stake in this decision for all Alaskans to see.

Patrick Martin is chair of Alaska Right to Life.


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