JUNEAU – House Judiciary Committee Chair Matt Claman on Friday delayed a hearing on one of Governor Mike Dunleavy’s bills. The decision follows the governor’s refusal to fill an Alaska Superior Court vacancy and the administration’s decision to block the Public Defender from testifying in-person on public safety legislation.
Governor Dunleavy failed to appoint one of the three nominees forwarded by the Alaska Judicial Council for a vacant Palmer seat on the bench. Article IV, Section 5 of the Constitution states: “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.” Alaska Statute 22.15.170. requires the Governor to select a judge from that list within 45 days.
“The oath I take to serve in this office requires that I swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Alaska. The Governor took the same oath to serve as our chief executive, and now he needs to live up to that solemn promise,” Representative Claman said.
The governor’s attempt to stifle the voice of Quinlan Steiner, Alaska’s Public Defender, is also alarming. Lawmakers are working through a variety of legislation aimed at making Alaska safer.
“There appears to be no precedent in Alaska history in which the Governor authorized prosecutors to travel to Juneau to testify on criminal justice bills but refused the same courtesy to public defenders,” said Representative Zack Fields, Co-Chair of the State Affairs Committee. “Having the perspective of both prosecutors and public defenders is crucial when reviewing bills related to public safety.”
A Judiciary Committee hearing on the governor’s House Bill 49 is delayed to Monday, and moving forward, Anchorage-based staff from the Dunleavy Administration will only be allowed to testify telephonically to the House Judiciary Committee and State Affairs Committee on public safety bills, unless the prosecutors and public defenders are afforded equal opportunities to testify in-person.