NATIVE ORGANIZATION HAS NOT BEEN THE SENATOR’S ‘SPECIAL FRIEND’
The Alaska Federation of Natives has joined the resistance against the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, putting pressure on someone AFN thinks it can scare: Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
But the group may have misfired, since politicos remember that AFN didn’t endorse Murkowski in 2016, even while the group did endorse Hillary Clinton for president that year.
AFN has become a reliable surrogate arm of the Democratic Party. It will only support Murkowski if it has no viable alternative.
Even while the mainstream media headline stated, “AFN, a key supporter of Murkowski, opposes Kavanaugh appointment,” there’s little evidence that the AFN support of Murkowski is anything but a relationship of convenience.
There is, however, a lot of evidence that Kavanaugh will be confirmed, with a couple of Democrats likely to vote for him in addition to most, if not all, Republicans. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine may succumb to the bullying of the Left, or not, but U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan has already said he’s a “yes” vote.
A look at the record shows Murkowski has always voted in favor of Republican presidents’ nominations to the Supreme Court. In addition, she voted for Kavanaugh’s nomination to federal appeals court in 2006, and it’s unlikely she’s going to vote against him in 2018.
AFN has become radicalized of late. It tolerates no dissension within its leadership. When former AFN board member Tara Sweeney became co-chair for the campaign of now-Sen. Dan Sullivan in 2014, AFN kicked her off the board. The board had endorsed Sen. Mark Begich.
Sullivan won. Now, Sweeney is head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as the assistant secretary for the Department of Interior.
WHY AFN CHOSE TO OPPOSE
In an 878-word statement on Wednesday, the Alaska Native organization said that it is “strongly opposing Judge Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court because of, among other things, his views on the rights of Native peoples.”
AFN cites Kavanaugh’s position on the “Indian Commerce Clause.” The organization refers to Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution, giving Congress the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.” AFN believes that the Commerce Clause should extend to things like child adoption, whereas conservative interpreters of the clause believe it only refers to commercial trade.
The statement from AFN cites the 2013 Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that sections of the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act do not apply to Native American biological fathers who are not custodians of their child. It was a complicated 2009 dispute where a non-Native couple sought to adopt a child whose father was Cherokee and whose mother was Hispanic. The father was not in the picture at the time of the adoption arrangement. The child was referred to as “Baby Veronica” in the extensive news media coverage and regardless the outcome, it was heart-wrenching for all who were involved.
AFN claims Kavanaugh has erroneous beliefs because he agrees with the decision, which is now considered settled law.
“Confirming a nominee with this viewpoint would be disastrous for Alaska, and would roll back the gains of self-determination and usher back in the losses of termination,” AFN wrote.
AFN also focuses on other attitudes it ascribes to Kavanaugh, such as his views on the “special trust responsibility” of the federal government regarding tribes. AFN underscores that this is a treaty promise, and that Kavanaugh “would only extend the special trust relationship to Indian tribes with his preferred history of federal dealings, including territorial removal and isolation. This, too, impacts Alaska, since Alaska Natives have a unique federal experience and few reservations were established in Alaska.”
“If he remains of the view that the special trust relationship only extends to Indian tribes with his brand of federal history, including territorial removal and isolation, he could very well rule that Congress lacks the authority to deal with Alaska Natives. This thinking could overturn much, if not all, of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, as well as all other federal legislation and regulations addressing Alaska Natives, tribes, corporations and organizations. To confirm a nominee who does not understand or appreciate the position of Native Hawaiians, and who could weaken the special trust relationship Alaska Natives share with the federal government, would be imprudent,” AFN wrote.
And there is another Kavanaugh point of view that troubles AFN. The group thinks Kavanaugh would not support the settled law established by 1974 Morton v. Mancari decision, which approved race-based hiring of people at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The complainants in this case were a group of non-Indian employees of the BIA who felt they were discriminated against.
DOES MURKOWSKI OWE AFN?
In 2010, Sen. Lisa Murkowski lost her primary election to Joe Miller, but then mounted an historic write-in campaign and won re-election in the General Election. Back then, AFN was her friend. The group hated Miller.
But Murkowski was also endorsed by other organizations in 2010, including the National Rifle Association, Safari Club International Alaska, Anchorage Young Republicans, NANA Regional Corporation, the National Education Association, Marine Conservation Alliance, and United Fishermen of Alaska.
AFN wouldn’t endorse Murkowski in 2016, but she won the primary and the support of the Alaska Republican Party.
She won the General Election easily. AFN may be preparing to endorse Mark Begich against Murkowski in 2022.
But that’s a long way away, in political time. The AFN position on Kavanugh will be far in the rearview mirror by then.
After Senate Democrats tried one last time to delay the nomination, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley set the committee vote on Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh for Sept. 20, with a full Senate vote to follow later this month.