The opinion piece by Kristie Babcock recently published in the Anchorage Daily News, in which she accuses Chief Justice Joel Bolger of being a racist for his votes in a recent Judicial Council meeting, conveniently left out the relevant facts about the votes. The letter is a textbook example of irony and manipulation. Because the Council was discussing applicants’ qualifications and suitability for the seat on the Supreme Court, the meeting was held in executive session. Those topics are generally confidential, so others on the Council, including Bolger himself, cannot respond about what happened. Babcock counted on the fact that the integrity of the other Council members meant that they would be reluctant to respond fully to her accusations, but the documents that are public tell a big part of the story.
Here is what information is available on the Judicial Council’s website: Seven people applied to be nominated by the Council to be considered by Governor Dunleavy for an appointment to the Supreme Court. In the poll of attorneys who had professional contact with the applicants, the three people who did get nominated all scored of 5.0 out of 5.0 for competence, integrity, and general suitability for the job. The applicant that Babcock favored scored sixth out of the seven applicants. Not only that, the three nominees all had impressive and extensive work prior to being a judge in appellate cases. A routine Westlaw search shows zero cases where Babcock’s favored applicant argued to the Supreme Court or wrote a Supreme Court brief, and he is one of the named lawyers in just two unpublished cases in the Court of Appeals. When someone’s vying for a seat on the Supreme Court who scored near the bottom of the applicant pool and who has almost no experience with appeals, maybe it’s not racism from the Chief Justice that prevented him from getting nominated.
Another strange fact is that when this applicant applied for the Supreme Court seat that was open last year, all six Judicial Council members voted no on whether to nominate him. This time around, the only difference in the Council was that Babcock is now a member. For some reason, the other two public members switched their votes this time from no to yes. Other members of the Council haven’t spoken publicly about why the other two public members switched their votes. Babcock seems to have swayed the two other public members to vote with her. How she was able to do that is not clear, but the rumors paint an ugly picture of Babcock’s actions.
Is Kristie Babcock a big fan of affirmative action? Did she suddenly decide that having a justice with some Mexican ancestry was something Alaska needs so much that his lack of qualifications should be secondary to ethnicity? That would be quite a change from what people of her political leanings usually say, which is we shouldn’t offer a job to a racial or ethnic minority because of their minority status – we should focus on their qualifications.
The real reason for her support is obvious. The applicant attended Regent University Law School back in the 1990’s. Regent’s website says it “provides a rigorous and Christ-centered education… to assist you in fulfilling God’s calling and making a difference.” The candidate that Babcock supports mentions his faith and his church as being very important to him in his application materials. He was once employed as staff to former State Senator Loren Leman, a religious social conservative. (This was during the three year time period it took him to pass the Bar exam after multiple attempts).
Getting him on the Supreme Court to try to overturn past abortion rulings and/or uphold statutes that restrict abortions or that restrict rights on socially progressive issues is surely why he was Babcock’s guy. It is no secret a big goal of the right wing of the Republican party is to get more conservative judges appointed. It was an acrobatic pivot for Babcock to pull out the affirmative action card (and even geographic diversity – after she herself defended against criticism that she was too “urban” during her own legislative confirmation effort just last month by saying she could fully represent rural Alaskans just fine because she’s broad-minded) in her effort to have her favored applicant gain the nomination, when the end goal would likely be having justices who would never favor someone just because of their ancestry or race. The irony is incredible.
The hatchet job on Chief Justice Bolger was just another step in the scorched earth effort to get a court packed with conservative Christian judges. The Council has tried to stay out of politics as much as possible, but Babcock’s appointment as a member changed that. Babcock will keep trying to make it a “we vs. them” Council – which is a shame, since our courts were designed by the framers of the Alaska Constitution to be as distant from politics as possible. With half-public facts and mind-bending irony, Babcock is trying to yank the reins in her direction. Let’s hope the rest of the Council members stay true to their mission, adhere to facts and not popularity when making decisions, and not let Babcock prevail with fear and intimidation.
The author of this piece wishes to remain anonymous.