Sunday, September 09, 2012

Alaska 2012 Judicial Retention Election: Should Third District Superior Court Judge Sen Tan Be Retained?

Update October 18th: Both the Alaska Family Council and former U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller have also come out in opposition to the retention of Judge Sen Tan.

Now that the Alaska Primary Election is in the record books, attention is turning to the general election to be held on November 6th, 2012. Getting the most scrutiny are the legislative candidates, and Republicans are particularly eager to put an end to the unwieldy and ineffective Senate Bi-Partisan Working Group.

But there's another group of candidates worthy of our attention. There are 26 judges up for retention elections this year. Although these judges were originally appointed, they are required to stand for retention on a recurring basis. To assist voters, the Alaska Judicial Council (AJC) publishes ratings of all the judges up for retention; the ratings for the 2012 election are accessible through this portal. The Alaska Judicial Council recommends that Alaskans vote Yes to retain all judges in 2012, which simply means they can find nothing in their character or performance impinging upon their professional worthiness.

But there is one judge with whom I have an issue, enough to cause me to vote NO on him. Anchorage Superior Court Judge Sen K. Tan is up for retention. His summary indicates high ratings from attorneys, peace officers, court employees, and social workers alike. Judge Tan also receives fewer preemptory challenges than his peers, but has a lower affirmance rate than his peers. Only those voters who live within the boundaries of the Third Judicial District will see Judge Tan's name on their ballots. A simplified map of district boundaries is provided below; a list of court locations within each district is available HERE:

The issue with Judge Tan is that he made two judicial decisions in the past that I consider detrimental to the public interest. In one case, he weakened parental control over their teenagers, and in another case, he disallowed efforts by the state to end public financing of elective abortions. Because of this, pro-life groups sought to defeat Judge Tan in the 2006 judicial retention election because he authored the lower court ruling that struck down the 1997 parental consent law, and because he authored another ruling that declared as “unconstitutional” the Alaska Legislature’s decision to end government-funded abortions. More details, with applicable links, are provided in the following paragraphs (after the jump).

In 1998, Judge Tan struck down Alaska's parental consent law on abortion without a trial, ruling that the Alaska Parental Consent Act and Judicial Authorization Act was unconstitutional. However, it was a summary judgment reached after Judge Tan read briefs filed by both sides without the benefit of a trial to flesh out those arguments. The failure to allow a trial triggered an appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court, which did not overrule Judge Tan on the decision, but on the failure to allow a trial. Consequently, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed that decision and returned the case to Judge Tan, ordering that the state of Alaska be allowed to present evidence in a trial.

The trial was held, and on October 13th, 2003, Judge Tan struck down the parental consent law again, ruling that the law violated teens' rights to equal protection under the state's constitution because it requires them to involve a parent only in their decision to have an abortion and not in other medical decisions such as carrying a pregnancy to term. Rather than continuing to battle over this issue, pro-life advocates subsequently embarked upon the more modest goal of getting a mandatory parental notification law passed.

On March 16th, 1999, Judge Sen Tan struck down a program called Chronic and Acute Medical Assistance, which banned public funding of elective abortion. Even though the law did not cut public funding for abortions for low-income women in cases of rape or incest, Judge Tan decided, based upon the privacy clause in the state constitution, that to grant funding for childbirth and other procedures but to cut out funding for elective abortions amounts to interference with a low-income woman's right to make her own reproductive choices. Judge Tan was not persuaded by the state's arguments that eliminating funding for abortions that protect a mother's health would free money to pay for pre- and postnatal care for children and mothers. Like his original ruling in the parental consent case, this was also a summary judgment, meaning he ruled after reading briefs filed by both sides but without the benefit of a trial to flesh out those arguments.

The State of Alaska appealed the decision to the Alaska Supreme Court, and on July 27th, 2001, the Court upheld Judge Tan's ruling unanimously, agreeing that denying funding for medically-advised abortions violates the state constitutional rights of indigent Alaskan women. However, there is some dispute over whether "medically-advised" and "medically-necessary" are genuinely synonymous. The Juneau Empire wrote "Under provisions of the state program, an abortion is funded after the doctor and the Medicaid recipient deem it necessary. That can include abortions for the mental and physical health of the mother".

In any event, both Judge Tan's decision and the Supreme Court ruling opened the door for public funding of elective abortions in Alaska. Combined with Judge Tan's invalidation of the 1997 Parental Consent Law, this persuades me to vote NO on his retention in November.


  1. fairbanks superior court judge paul lyle is a direct danger and threat to the community and especially children, this man on numerous ocassions has sacrificed young children to fufill his own bias agenda,, i have a pal who this man lyle overturned several orders to protect a child,, and deliberatly placed in a pedifiles care,, and also a man who threatened to kill this child,,lyle has on multible occassions placed children in very dangerous households,vote judge paul lyle off the bench for all kids sake,, this man is a danger to our society

  2. Hey anonymous check out if you want your opinion heard. We need to get him off the bench.