Two Alaska Supreme Court justices are up for election this fall.
The judges are Justices Peter Maasen and Joel Bolger, who helped strike down a voter-approved law requiring at least one parent be notified before an abortion could be perform on a minor girl.
On Nov. 8 Alaskans will decide whether to remove Maasen and Bolger.
Earlier this year the judges joined a split decision in overturning a citizen-led initiative that had passed comfortably in 2010 by a 56 to 43 percent margin. The achievement was a long sought and welcome victory for many parents and Catholics who collected petition signatures, waved signs on street corners and prayed to ensure the protection of parental rights on the issue of abortion.
When Maasen, Bolger and two other justices ruled to overturn the law, it came as a blow to pro-life advocates across Alaska who had worked hard to craft a parental notice measure which the court had earlier indicated would pass legal muster.
Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the nation, challenged the law soon after it passed in 2010. In 2012 Anchorage Superior Court Judge John Suddock upheld major portions of the law, concluding “minors may be pleasantly surprised when underestimated parents support, comfort and affirm them. Or a teen might overlook available resources. Her parents might help raise the child, and so make college or military service feasible.”
But the majority on the Supreme Court didn’t agree.
Voting along with Maasen and Bolger to overturn the parental consent law were then Chief Justice Dana Fabe and Justice Daniel Winfree. Only Justice Craig Stowers dissented.
Stowers criticized his colleagues for failing to uphold basic parental rights, saying the ruling “trivializes and makes this right of no effect.”
In writing the majority opinion, Winfree defended the majority, claiming that the law unjustifiably treated minors differently when they sought an abortion as opposed to when they decided to keep their babies. By requiring abortion doctors to notify parents that their daughter was to undergo an abortion but not requiring parents to be notified when their daughter chose to keep the baby was seen as a violation of equal protection under the law, Winfree argued.
But Stowers had strong words for the court’s rationale, saying that the same court had previously stated in a 2007 (in striking down a parental consent law) that a parental notification law could pass constitutional muster because it would be a less restrictive way to further the state’s interests.
By striking down the parental notification law, Stowers said the court has indicated that “no parental notification law recognizing parents’ fundamental legal rights to notification of, much less meaningful involvement in, their minor daughters’ decisions to have abortions will be upheld by this court under its strained jurisprudence defining minors’ rights to equal protection.”
According to state law, Alaska’s Supreme Court justices are chosen when Alaska Judicial Council forwards a list of nominees to the governor, who must choose a name from the list within 45 days to fill any vacancy. Justices serve 10-year terms on the court. They are then subject to a retention election at the state’s first general election that is more than three years after the appointment. After that, the five justices are subject to a retention election every 10 years.
The upcoming Nov. 8 vote on whether to remove Maasen and Bolger will be their first retention election. Other than the popular vote, justices may also be removed from office through a vote of fellow members of the Supreme Court, or justices can be impeached by two-thirds of the Alaska Senate and then convicted by two-thirds of the House of Representatives.