UPDATED: Governor Palin Fills Supreme Court Vacancy

The ADN reports:

Gov. Palin just appointed Anchorage Superior Court Judge Morgan Christen to the vacancy on the Alaska Supreme Court.

The opening was created by the pending retirement of longtime Justice Warren Matthews.

Palin chose Christen over Palmer Superior Court judge Eric Smith, the other candidate whose name was submitted to the governor by the Alaska Judicial Council.

Christen, 47, is currently the presiding judge for the Third Judicial District, an area that encompasses all of Southcentral Alaska — including Anchorage, Kenai, Mat-Su, Cordova, Valdez and Kodiak — as well as Bristol Bay and the Aleutian Islands. As such she oversees the work of 23 other Superior Court judges.

I found this particularly interesting:

Under Alaska’s Constitution, she goes straight to the Supreme Court; there’s no legislative confirmation. Christen will be subject to approval or rejection by voters in the next general election (November 2010); after initial approval, justices face a retention vote every ten years.

Previous C4P coverage of Governor Palin’s judicial appointments and the appointment process in Alaska can be found here.

UPDATE by Ramrocks: Gov. Palin’s power to appoint judges is very limited in this process. Sure, she doesn’t have to get her appointees approved by the legislature; but she can only choose names from a short list supplied to her by the Judicial Council. And in this instance, they sent her two names that she would never choose on her own, but she had no recourse to demand more names. No, this Alaskan system is not ideal.

Here’s Governor Palin’s press release:

March 4, 2009, Juneau, Alaska – Governor Sarah Palin selected Anchorage Superior Court Judge Morgan Christen to the Alaska Supreme Court. Christen is the 20th justice appointed to the Court.

“Alaska’s Supreme Court bears the awesome responsibility of ensuring that our court system administers justice in firm accordance with the principles laid down in our state Constitution,” said Governor Palin. “I have every confidence that Judge Christen has the experience, intellect, wisdom and character to be an outstanding Supreme Court justice.”

Christen, 47, was born in Chehalis, Washington. After attending colleges in England, Switzerland, and the People’s Republic of China, she received a bachelor’s degree in international studies from the University of Washington in 1983, and a law degree from Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco, California, in 1986.

Christen worked as a law clerk to Anchorage Superior Court Justice Brian Shortell from 1986-87, then joined Preston, Gates & Ellis in 1987, becoming a partner in 1992. She was appointed as an Anchorage Superior Court justice in 2002, and has been presiding judge since 2005.

Christen currently serves on the boards of the Alaska Community Foundation and the Rasmuson Foundation, and previously served on the boards of the United Way of Anchorage, and of Big Brothers/Big Sisters. A past president of Anchorage Association of Women Lawyers, she has also won the Anchorage Chamber’s Light of Hope award for helping Alaska children in 2004, and won the Anchorage Chamber’s Athena Society Award in 2006. She has been a member of the Downtown Anchorage Rotary Club since 1992.


Under current judicial selection procedures, the Alaska Judicial Council received applications from six Alaska attorneys, winnowed the list to two names, and forwarded them to the governor.

UPDATE by VO: The ADN has more details this morning. Apparently Governor Palin requested full dossiers on the two candidates, an unusual step. From Palin’s point of view, there were drawbacks to both candidates. Christen once served on the board of Planned Parenthood (at a time when the organization did not perform abortions in Alaska) while the other candidate, Eric Smith, was executive director of an environmentalist group. In a state like Alaska, which depends on resource development, having an environmental activist on the bench would be a nightmare.

There was nothing Palin could do to force the Judicial Council to give her more candidates; apparently Murkowski once tried rejecting all of their candidates – but was humiliated when they refused to give him any other options and he had to select one of the original names they gave him.

The fact that she selected Christen over Smith, despite being lobbied by conservative Christians to battle the AJC, is significant – especially with the parental consent bill pending before the Legislature. I think it sends a pretty clear signal that she is placing the economic well-being of Alaskans over her personal beliefs – but this is nothing new. Her philosophy of strict constructionism is once again demonstrated in her press release about the appointment:

“Alaska’s Supreme Court bears the awesome responsibility of ensuring that our court system administers justice in firm accordance with the principles laid down in our state Constitution,” said Governor Palin.

There are people on the Right who will not like this – as a matter of fact, it sounds like some social conservatives in Alaska are already unhappy. But, as she has always stated when asked, she feels that the question of abortion should be resolved by the will of the people. And, truth be told, Smith probably would have been no better on the abortion issue than Christen. A fight with the AJC would have been distracting and likely accomplished nothing.

In an ideal world, the fact that she appointed a former Planned Parenthood board member to the high court would stop the criticism of the left-wing feminists who claim she wants to take away the right of women to choose. But I somehow doubt they will give her any credit. These were tough waters for Governor Palin to navigate, but it seems to me she chose the best available option for the economic health of Alaska.

UPDATE II BY VO: Some commenters have asked what this appointment does to the balance of power in the court vis-a-vis the parental consent issue. This article provides some background on the vote last time around…bottom line is that the balance probably remains 3-2 against. One of the justices who opposed parental consent, Alex Bryner, was replaced last year by Palin appointee Daniel Winfree, who the ADN describes as “conservative”. However, Christen is replacing Warren Matthews, who supported parental consent the last time. So this is probably a wash.

The unknown factor is if the Court, in a putative challenge, would go with parental notification in lieu of consent if that is presented as an option. It may not even come to that – Hollis French still has the parental consent bill, as well as a proposed ban on partial birth abortion, bottled up in his committee.

UPDATE II by Ramrocks: I can tell already that this issue will be used by Gov. Palin’s critics in the Lower 48 to malign her social conservative credentials. They will imply that she chose Christen, a former PP board member, in the same manner as the President of the United States chooses judicial appointments. This is totally false, and we should be vigilant in pointing this out.

As was noted in a law.com article from last September:

Judicial nominations in Alaska follow the Missouri Plan, a hybrid of elections and appointments. A group of three lawyers, three nonlawyers and the chief justice of the state Supreme Court vets, interviews and votes on candidates for judgeships. For each vacancy, the group — called the Alaska Judicial Council — submits at least two nominees to the governor, who makes the final decision on whom to appoint.

There can be no doubt that Gov. Palin would not have chosen Christen if she were given the freedom to choose an appointee in the same manner that the POTUS does.

UPDATE III by Ramrocks: Welcome, Hot Air readers.

For the latest info on the judicial appointment (including an explanation of the Missouri Plan, the backstory on Murkowski’s battle with the AJC, the applications submitted by Christen and Smith, and the current make-up of the AJC), please see our current post here.

UPDATE IV by Ramrocks: Please see here for Gov. Palin’s Facebook statement about the judicial appointment and her pro-life beliefs.

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