The Rabinowitz Legacy

“40 Years of politics on the AKSCT”

40 years ago I was in my political prime.  I was a 37 year old lawyer with a beautiful wife and three fine looking little boys.  For services rendered in his 1978 reelection campaign, Gov. Jay Hammond had designed a seat in the State Senate especially for me, and I was ready to start my legislative career.

I’d come back to Alaska in 1974 after law school with the intention of taking out Democratic U. S. Senator Mike Gravel, a liberal and a whack job.  But Frank Murkowski beat me to it, so now I had my sights on liberal Republican Senator Ted Stevens.  I couldn’t run against Congressman Don Young because Don was a good conservative and there would be no point to it.

I made no secret of my intentions, and I had my political game plan all worked out.  In 1980 I’d been chairman of Reagan for President, Alaska.  In 1990 I would run in the Republican Senate primary hard to Stevens’ right, and attack  his liberalism as out of touch with the majority of Alaska’s Reagan Republicans.

A few months after I was sworn in to the State Senate, Justice Jay Rabinowitz handed down his opinion in Carpenter v. Hammond, 667 P. 2d 1204.  It threw out Hammond’s 1980 reapportionment, and gave Democratic Governor Bill Sheffield a free rein in reapportioning the whole state.  Sheffield hated my guts, so my career in the State Senate would end in 1984.

 To this day legal scholars have a hard time figuring out Carpenter v. Hammond.  Legally, it’s nonsensical.  But it wasn’t really a legal opinion.  It was purely political.

My political momentum was stopped cold.  I was never able to regain it, and I never ran against Ted Stevens.

For 40 years Alaska’s Supreme Court has been faithfully fulfilling the Rabinowitz legacy of left wing political activism and judicial imperialism.  Republican Governors have attempted to appoint conservatives, but have been stymied by the lawyer-dominated Alaska Judicial Council, which refuses to nominate them.  They’re trying it again right now, giving Governor Mike Dunleavy a list of exclusively leftist activist nominees, all in the mold of Jay Rabinowitz.

But this year there’s a difference.  Dunleavy is the first two term Republican Governor in 44 years, so he doesn’t have to worry about reelection.  The leftist lawyers and media can hold their breath, roll on the floor, and turn purple, but he doesn’t have to pay any attention.  It’s an historic opportunity, which let’s hope he takes advantage of.  He doesn’t have to appoint any of these people.

He can just say no.

Fritz Pettyjohn blogs at

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