AFN chose to oppose Kavanaugh; does it matter to Sen. Murkowski?



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.


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.


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.


  1. In 2008 AFN demonstrated its gratitude by throwing rural Alaska’s most powerful advocate ever under the bus. Senator Ted Stevens.

  2. I have to agree with the late Senator Ted Stevens ,God rest his soul . Lisa is a Banker’s Daughter , was placed in where she is now, was well groomed . I’m disappointed in AFN, been disappointed in Lisa !! Alaska Natives , do care about jobs and future for there families . Lisa reminds me of the white man passing out blankets to the Indians , they were laced with chicken pocks , other nasty stuff .

    • You’d think if Alaska Natives care so much about jobs and future for families, they would demand Lisa do whatever is necessary to pave the way for Native-owned casino gambling in Alaska.

  3. Murkowski made a big mistake by not telling the public she was going to vote for the SCOTUS nominee shortly after Trump appointed him. Like Sullivan did!
    Now she is enduring these pressures from various sectors along with the subtle treats that are contained between the lines. Had she made it clear that she supported Kavanaugh at the beginning there would not have been all these pleas. Now she has created a problem. If she votes “no” she will likely go down in flames next election. If”yes” she will be skewered by all the organizations that have been pleading with her to vote “no”. And for what? Nothing! Because Kavanaugh will be confirmed either way.

  4. Thanks to Suzanne for an excellent summary of AFN’s relationship, or lack thereof with Senator Lisa. Frankly I wondered about the AFN endorsement, but as usual, Suzanne straightened out all of the fallacy behind the Senator’s “key supporter.”

  5. I find it interesting that there is all this writing about “settled law.”

    The SCOTUS has reversed itself many times with better information and understanding of legal questions before it. Sometimes it takes a year or two, sometimes it takes a few decades and one time it took over one hundred years. Also, one time (1857 Dred Scott v Sanford Decision) Congress (Civil Rights act of 1866) along with the 14th Admendment to the Constitution, acted to effectively reverse a bad SCOTUS decision. Then, lets not forget Plessy v Ferguson (1896) which allowed state-sponsored segregation. That decision was thankfully overturned in 1954 unanimously by the Brown v Board of Education of Topeka SCOTUS decision.

  6. Where Murkowski causes a lot of trouble for herself is thinking she owes anything to Democrats because there were critical to her successful write-in campaign. She does not. The Democrats got that they wanted (not Joe Miller). All debts were paid at closing. She owes them nothing just like they owe her nothing. In fact they will never support her over a viable Democrat like say Begich.

    Sweeney’s husband took over her campaign after she lost in the primary to Miller. Hopefully between the two Sweeneys they can keep Murkowski from scoring on her own goal (voting against confirmation). The fact that this is a question at this late date is troubling.

  7. This was a difficult story to read. The challenge is creating understanding not a story. It helps to spend some time understanding and becoming fully functional in multi-generational interdependent complex relationships as she has.

    All we owe each other is respect and Senator Murkowski has earned it. No one put her there. She chose to serve and we are grateful for each and every day she continues to serve. We support her in that choice and are indebted to her for her service and her commitment not to be beholding to anyone but her own conscious.

    • Tom:
      Senator Murkowski is beholden to the people of the State of Alaska and in particular those who put her in office. We expect her to vote according to the Alaskans’ values of those who “put her there”. If she votes against confirming Kavanaugh she will be traitorous to the values that got her elected. She already damaged her credibility when she voted to retain the ACA. Maybe not terminally. But if she does not vote to confirm she will not get re-elected. That’s terminal.

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