Babcock attack on chief justice undermines judicial independence
The only thing missing from the ignorant rant by State Farm insurance agent Kristie Babcock against Chief Justice Joel Bolger was the acknowledgment of the hidden hand of her husband, Republican hatchet man Tuckerman.
“Chief Justice Joel Bolger, like many lawyers, is good with words, but the words have no real meaning,” she and he whined, claiming Bolger is a racist hypocrite who looks down on people from rural Alaska.
From the first word to the last, it is a cheap shot of the kind that has been Tuckerman’s trademark during his long history as an anti-government zealot, while drawing a government paycheck or a government pension.
Let’s give credit where credit is due.
The Babcock piece, which contains numerous lies and distortions, is the beginning of a Babcock campaign to get right-wing extremists appointed as judges. The attack on Bolger followed his tie-breaking vote on the council, which did not select a nominee favored by the Babcocks—Kotzebue Superior Court Judge Paul Roetman.
The Babcocks invented a story that Bolger’s decision was based on Roetman’s Mexican-American heritage, and that Roetman works in Kotzebue. They invented a story that Bolger is biased against rural Alaskans and biased against minorities. They stopped just short of inventing a story that Bolger’s decision was based on Roetman being a Christian.
The Babcocks did not mention that the council voted to the forward the names of the three highest-rated applicants to the governor. Dunleavy is required by the Alaska Constitution to pick one of the three for the high court—Dani Crosby, Jennifer Stuart Henderson and Yvonne Lamoureux.
The Alaska Legislature, led by its Republican members, made a serious mistake by confirming Kristie to the Alaska Judicial Council, giving Team Babcock a powerful position from which to attack the independence of our judicial system for the next six years.
Three decades ago, Tuckerman had a job under Wally Hickel helping select nominees for boards and commissions. Somehow, Tuckerman became the ideal nominee for a better state job on the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. He said he made sure the right guy was picked by “divorcing myself” from the process.
He divorced himself by handing the nomination process over to his state assistant, Kristie.
“The governor thought Tuckerman would be a great public member,” said Kristie, who became the second Mrs. Babcock more than a decade later.
When Kristie was a co-chair of Mike Dunleavy’s campaign for governor, she said she “assists her husband with his volunteer role as chairman of the Alaska Republican Party.”
The clearest sign of Tuckerman’s assistance in Kristie’s attack on Bolger is the claim that the Judicial Council should forward the names of “all highly qualified applicants” to the governor for consideration.
In 2019, Tuckerman and Dunleavy ignored the Alaska Constitution and complained that the council did not forward the names of other “qualified applicants” to Dunleavy.
The council is crucial to the performance of an independent judiciary, a point lost on culture warrior Tuckerman, the former head of the Republican Party in Alaska, and Kristie.
The council is one of five boards and commissions mentioned in the Alaska Constitution. The council, which has three attorney members and three non-attorney members, is responsible for deciding which applicants for judgeships should be forwarded to the governor as nominees. The governor selects judges from the nominees he receives, a system that has proven to be an effective way of keeping party politics out of judge selection.
Article IV of the Alaska Constitution makes the governor’s role in selecting judges clear: “The governor shall fill any vacancy in an office of supreme court justice or superior court judge by appointing one of two or more persons nominated by the judicial council.”
Tuckerman, a champion of small government who had held various state jobs in his life, was feeling his big government oats as chief of staff two years ago when he insisted that the Alaska Judicial Council reveal secret information to him—part of the pressure campaign to override the council’s actions and force the submission of more nominees.
Tuckerman said he wanted all information on applicants for judgeships who were not nominated by the council.
The council released public information and comments, but refused to release confidential documents, following its bylaws for treatment of certain documents obtained during the investigatory process.
On March 18, two days before Dunleavy refused to follow the law, an irked Tuckerman wrote that the council was wrong to deny him access to documents that were not part of the public record. He wanted all solicited and unsolicited information about every applicant, including comments that sources had wanted kept secret by the council.
Tuckerman claimed the council’s bylaws that required confidential treatment were unconstitutional and he asked again that the agency “provide all the information it considered” in making its decision.
Babcock was looking for confidential political ammunition to bolster the unconstitutional position Dunleavy took, interfering with the process underlying an independent judiciary.
With Team Babcock now on the judicial council, Tuckerman and Kristie are trying to put their right-wing politics above all else in the judicial selection process, hoping to destroy a system that has worked well for Alaska.
Wickersham’s Conscience, the blog of a retired Alaska lawyer, offers the best summary of the flawed Babcock hit job: ”The op-ed piece has the nasty, mean-spirited tone and utter disregard of facts that are the signature rhetorical tools of Tuckerman Babcock.”
Source: Reporting From Alaska