Friday, April 17, 2009

Activist Justice Robert Eastaugh Retiring From The Alaska Supreme Court, May Promote Easier Passage Of HB35 Parental Consent Abortion Bill

Pro-life and pro-family Alaskans got an unexpected and welcome boost on April 17th, 2009 when activist justice Robert Eastaugh announced his intention to retire from the Alaska Supreme Court, effective November 2009. Eastaugh will be the third Supreme Court justice to retire within the past two years. Media story in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Eastaugh was first appointed to the Court in 1994 by then-governor Walter Hickel. However, he eventually ran afoul of a number of pro-life and pro-family Alaskans. A commenter to the News-Miner story reminds us that on October 28th, 2005, Justice Eastaugh joined with the majority to rule that the State of Alaska and local governments are required to provide benefits equivalent to marriage to the same-sex partners of state, municipal and other local government employees.

However, Justice Eastaugh rendered an even more controversial decision on November 2nd, 2007. On that day, Eastaugh joined Chief Justice Dana Fabe and Justice Alexander Bryner in voting 3-2 to strike down Alaska's parental consent law, which was passed to ban teenagers from getting abortions without parental consent. The court decided that the consent requirement mandated in the Parental Consent Act of 1997 robbed a pregnant teen of her so-called "constitutional right" to make such an important decision herself and transfers that right to her parents or a judge, although Chief Justice Fabe later conceded that a law merely requiring that a teenager inform her parents in advance before getting an abortion might pass judicial muster, since that's a standard used in other states.

Justice Eastaugh stood for a retention election in 2008, and despite the Alaska Republican Party's negative recommendation, 63.54 percent of voters chose to retain Eastaugh. Why Justice Eastaugh has chosen to retire so soon after winning a retention election has not been explained; it's possible it's for a completely unanticipated reason.

To fill the upcoming vacancy, the Alaska Judicial Council is accepting applications through May 15th. If they follow prior suit, the Council will forward the names of the two most-qualified (in their opinion) applicants to Governor Sarah Palin, who will submit her choice to the Alaska State Legislature for confirmation during the 2010 session.

Governor Palin previously named Daniel Winfree to the Court in November 2007 and Morgan Christen in March 2009. The appointment of Christen initially upset the socially conservative Alaska Family Council because she once served on the board of Planned Parenthood during the 1990s. However, it soon emerged that Planned Parenthood didn't start providing abortions in Alaska until 2003, long after Christen's involvement with the organization ceased, so this mitigated the Alaska Family Council's concerns.

The departure of yet another Supreme Court Justice who invalidated parental consent may have a favorable impact upon current proposed legislation designed to restore parental consent. Rep. John Coghill has sponsored HB35, which doesn't merely mandate parental notification, but also parental consent. On April 2nd, the House passed HB35 22-14-4, and it is now being heard in the Senate's HSS Committee. While Governor Palin previously endorsed HB35 as written, lately she has been tossing out signals that she might be willing to compromise and settle for the lesser goal of parental notification. The departure of another activist judge may stiffen the Guv's spine and encourage her to hold firm for parental consent, since it may now become more court-proof. It may even promote passage of the bill in the Senate as currently written. Note: Late on April 17th, the Anchorage Daily News reported that HB35 failed to be passed out of Health, Education and Social Services, which ends its chances of being passed in 2009.

In any event, the departure of Justice Robert Eastaugh is a welcome development and provides us the opportunity to create a more constructionist Supreme Court oriented more towards interpreting the law rather than legislating from the bench.

No comments:

Post a Comment