Soldotna’s Kristie Babcock was confirmed to the Alaska Judicial Council Tuesday in a tight vote by the Alaska Legislature.
Babcock, who runs a State Farm Insurance agency in Kenai, was among a slew of appointees confirmed Tuesday from Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy. She’s married to Tuckerman Babcock, former chair of the Alaska Republican Party and Dunleavy’s former chief of staff.
While many other appointees sailed through, Babcock was nearly rejected.
“In large measure, my objection really comes back to the constitution,” said Anchorage Rep. Matt Claman, one of 26 legislators who voted “no.”
Members of the Alaska Judicial Council nominate candidates for judicial vacancies, who are ultimately chosen by the governor.
Three of the council members are lawyers appointed by the Alaska Bar Association. Three are non-attorney members appointed by the governor. The Alaska Supreme Court’s chief justice serves as a tiebreaking vote.
The council’s other two non-lawyer members are from the Mat-Su and Anchorage. Before March, there was also a member from Nome.
Representatives from the Alaska Federation of Natives opposed Babcock’s nomination, saying they were concerned about the lack of representation on the council from rural Alaska if Babcock took the third seat.
Claman said the confirmation defies a section of the state’s constitution that says appointments to the council should be made “with due consideration to area representation.”
“I think it’s really important that we actually have the diversity of views that comes from the different regions of Alaska,” he said.
Babcock’s supporters said the Kenai Peninsula is regionally distinct from its Southcentral neighbors, even though they’re all in the same judicial district. In a recent opinion piece published in the Anchorage Daily News, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce said for residents of the Kenai Peninsula, “it feels rich being lumped in with Anchorage.”
Wasilla Republican Sen. David Wilson said it’s hard to get full representation with so few seats on the council.
“The opponents try to say that the Mat-Su, Anchorage, and Kenai are the same area,” he said, addressing Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche. “Mr. President, we both know that’s not true.”
In an April 28 letter to the Legislature, Babcock asked lawmakers to judge her qualifications on their own merits.
“Where was the outrage over this ‘lack of geographical representation’ over the past 62 years? There wasn’t any,” she said. “Is the outrage being voiced now by a small but vocal number of attorneys and retired judges really about geography?”
The Legislature confirmed Babcock with 33 “yes” votes to 26 “no” votes.
Anchorage Republican Rep. Sara Rasmussen said she’s excited to see a female appointee. Babcock will be the first woman from the Kenai Peninsula to serve on the council.
“Aside from her geographic location and who she’s married to, I really haven’t heard many compelling reasons to vote against Ms. Babcock,” Rasmussen said.
The Judicial Council’s appointment process is often hailed by supporters for its nonpartisan approach, where applicants for judgeships are scored by their colleagues rather than elected by voters.
But political conservatives aligned with Dunleavy have long criticized the role of the Alaska Bar Association appointees, calling them overly liberal and out of step with public opinion.
The Judicial Council’s next meeting is May 24, when it will consider applicants for a vacancy on the Supreme Court.