An Unfortunate Development In Alaska

This report is pretty straightforward. It isn’t the only time when the budget has been used as a weapon to “punish” the judiciary. But each time it happens there is an erosion of the independence that courts need to have in order to be effective. The founding fathers knew this risk and so many state constitutions provide that judges salaries can’t be cut as retribution for rulings the political branches dislike.

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) – Officials from the Alaska Court System say judges will not be pressured by “the politics of the day” after the governor cut funding to the Alaska Supreme Court due to rulings made on abortion funding.

On Friday, the governor announced that $334,700 would be vetoed from the Alaska Supreme Court’s budget. Documents provided by the Office of Management and Budget made clear that the decision was due to multiple rulings by the Alaska Supreme Court that funding for so-called “elective” abortions is constitutionally required by the State.

“The Legislative and Executive Branch are opposed to State-funded elective abortions; the only branch of government that insists on State-funded elective abortions is the Supreme Court,” read the document from the OMB. “The annual cost of elective abortions is reflected by this reduction.”

Margaret Newman, a spokesperson for the Alaska Court System, released a statement Wednesday in response to the governor’s veto. “Legislators, governors, and all other Alaskans certainly have the right to their own opinions about the constitutionality of government action, but ultimately it is the courts that are required to decide what the constitution mandates,” her statement read.

“We assure all Alaskans that the Alaska Court System will continue to render independent court decisions based on the rule of law, without regard to the politics of the day,” she added.

In 1998, the Department of Health and Social Services implemented regulations restricting state funding for abortions through Medicaid. In 2001, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that all women, regardless of income, are owed the same access to healthcare under the equal protection clause of the Alaska Constitution.

In February, the Alaska Supreme Court essentially reaffirmed its 2001 decision after a 2014 statute and a 2013 regulation attempted to re-define which abortions are deemed “medically necessary.”

Conservatives have long argued that Alaska’s courts have a liberal bias on the issue of abortion.

“The Alaska Supreme Court has a long history of extremist rulings on abortion. But until today, they never suffered any real consequences for it,” read a statement released Friday by Jim Minnery, the executive director of the Alaska Family Council.

House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, said he was surprised by the veto, but that the governor may believe the courts aren’t as “impartial as they could be.” Pruitt said that was because the Alaska Bar Association has a prominent voice on the Alaska Judicial Council, the independent body that appoints judges to the bench.

The Alaska Judicial Council is made up of seven members: Three members of the Alaska Bar Association, three people confirmed by the Legislature who are not attorneys and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, spoke out strongly against the perceived pressuring of the judiciary by the executive. “That is inappropriate by any measure, whether you’re pro-choice, pro-life. That is an inappropriate use of the governorship.”

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