The surprising thing about Sen. Lora Reinbold is not that she doesn’t understand the first thing about the separation of powers in Alaska’s Constitution. It’s that she remains the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee after proving time and again that she is unfit for the position.
This is not about the time and money she has wasted with her posturing about mask mandates or spreading lies about COVID-19 based on the nutball theory of the hour. It’s also not about the time she spends deleting comments on her Facebook page that question her bad judgment. It’s more fundamental than any of those things.
During her grand inquisition of nominees for the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct Wednesday, Reinbold claimed she was asking “tough questions.” They were dumb questions.
I say that with all due respect.
Reinbold claimed that if a court strikes down anything that Reinbold believes is a “good law,” it is an abuse of power and a violation of the separation of powers.
The Constitution is best interpreted by people like Reinbold, according to Reinbold.
Fortunately, our system of government doesn’t allow that. Yet.
“It is the duty of the courts to interpret the Constitution when disputes come before them that raise constitutional questions,” is how historian Gordon Harrison put it in “Alaska’s Constitution: A Citizen’s Guide,” a document that Reinbold should read sometime.
The law setting the rules for the nine-member Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct does not allow the agency to target judges over matters of legal and political interpretation, but deals strictly with unethical behavior, bias, etc.
The difference between constitutional interpretation and unethical behavior is lost on Reinbold, the worst judiciary chair in Alaska history.
Sen. Shelley Hughes sat next to Reinbold as Reinbold and Sen. Mike Shower interrogated the nominees for the judicial conduct board. One of the nominees is Jane Moores, a Juneau attorney and sister of Hughes.
Reinbold kept repeating her claims about the courts improperly butting in — she is especially irked about the Supreme Court and abortion decisions — and demanded to know if Mores agreed that if the court strikes down a “good law,” what should be done about it?
“Do you believe in legislating from the bench and impacting a policy that the legislature has passed, yes or no?,” Reinbold asked.
Mores, to her credit, refused to answer Reinbold, saying her personal opinion about a court decision has no bearing on the authority or operation of the commission.
“Let’s take a step back. Just say it has nothing to do at this point with abortion or a parental rights or a ballot initiative. I’m strictly asking you, do you believe a judge should be impacting policy that a legislative branch — regardless of the issue — yes or no?” Reinbold asked Mores.
Hughes, who is not exactly Oliver Wendell Holmes, paused the browbeating at that point to give an example of how and why the courts might strike down a law and win the cheers of conservatives like Reinbold for legislating from the bench and setting policy.
“If the Legislature were to pass a bill banning guns and the court would state that that is unconstitutional, I think that is appropriate. So there are cases where it is appropriate for the courts to make the ruling that the Legislature maybe got it wrong,” Hughes said.
Reinbold was not convinced and told Hughes she didn’t want her to answer for her sister.
“Do you believe they should be setting policy from the bench?” she again asked Mores, who wouldn’t answer.
Earlier, Juneau Sen. Jesse Kiehl said he objected to the question as irrelevant to the work of the comm, but Reinbold wouldn’t hear it and cut him off.
“Excuse me, excuse me, I’m the chair,” she said.
Exactly. That’s the problem.
Dermot Cole is a longtime Alaskan, an author of several history books and a former Daily News-Miner staff columnist who now writes an occasional column on Alaska politics and history at Reporting From Alaska, www.dermotcole.com. His email address is email@example.com.