Regardless of what you think about Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s scathing letter complaining about how State Senator Lora Reinbold has treated his staff or characterized his administration during Senate committee hearings, or Reinbold’s video response decrying what she sees as executive overstep by the governor in response to COVID, something very important is happening below the surface. It transcends personal differences and bruised egos.

Sen. Reinbold has turned the Senate Judiciary Committee into a kind of inquisition against the gradual erosion of the Alaska Legislature’s constitutional powers – both through its own negligence and from actions taken by the executive and judicial branches of government.

On the judicial side, Alaska judges have repeatedly overstepped their constitutionally limited powers to strike down any duly passed laws which they deem intolerable. Nearly every pro-life law, no matter how limited in scope, has been uniformly reversed by the courts. The Supreme Court has gone so far as to order Dunleavy’s administration to pay for elective abortions, even though the Legislature, which controls the state’s purse strings, has explicitly forbidden this.

Historian Dave Barton told legislators that they must never relinquish their supremacy over the other two branches of government.

But it goes beyond abortion. Last year, the courts ordered the Division of Elections to cease from enforcing laws, passed by the Legislature, to ensure the identity of absentee voters. The court held that it was simply too burdensome to have someone witness and verify that an absentee voter was who he claimed to be.

On the executive side, numerous concerns have been raised about how the governor applied the extraordinary powers granted him by the Legislature to address COVID concerns. Over the past year businesses, churches, schools and myriad other entities and functions were ordered to cease or severely limit operations under the penalty of law.

Under Reinbold’s chairmanship, the Senate Judiciary is taking a long-overdue look at how the Legislature has gradually relinquished much of its constitutional authority to both the executive and judicial branches. On Feb. 24, she invited two national experts in U.S. history and constitutional law to address the Judiciary Committee. The public hearing was reminiscent of a college seminar class on separation of powers.

The Legislature must limit what the courts and executives can and cannot do to the people.

First, U.S. historian Dave Barton told legislators that they must never relinquish their supremacy over the other two branches of government. And where they have lost ground, they must reassert their constitutional rights. They are, after all, the branch closest to the people and therefore empowered to check both the courts and the executive. Failure to do so will always result in loss of liberty, he said.

It’s important to note the extraordinary powers granted to the Legislature. Not only does it control and appropriate state money, but it has power to remove governors and judges from office. Additionally, the Legislature can override vetoes and effectively enact laws even against the will of the governor. This is how our representative democracy was intentionally designed. Why? So that the branch of government most directly tied to the people – the Legislature – could safeguard our freedoms.

Following Barton’s presentation, the next person to address the Senate Judiciary was law professor and legal scholar Phil Kline. He warned of the dangers posed by judges and governors who overreach their powers and disenfranchise citizens in the name of safety.

He said science has a place in guiding public policy regarding pandemics and other threats, but it can only ever decide what is the case. How to respond is the moral question, and this must always be decided by the collective deliberation of the people.

Kline reminded the Senate Judiciary Committee members that the American form of representative democracy was founded, not primarily to keep people safe from all harm – whether physical or emotional – but to preserve personal liberties and inalienable rights bestowed on each man and woman by our creator. When these are threatened, by overreaching executive or judicial powers, it is up to the Legislature to intervene and place limits on what the courts and executives can and cannot do to the people.

If the misery of 2020 bears any good fruit, it will be a renewed and emboldened Legislative branch, committed to defending liberty and curtailing those who threaten it.

Click here to watch the Feb. 24 Judiciary Committee Meeting. The speakers begin at the 14:21 mark and the presentation last about an hour.

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Dunleavy/Reinbold dispute is part of a deeper struggle over legislative supremacy

Joel Davidson
Joel is Editor-in-Chief of the Alaska Watchman. Joel is an award winning journalist and has been reporting for over 24 years, He is a proud father of 8 children, and lives in Palmer, Alaska.


  • Patrick Dalton says:

    Good summary. Thanks for covering this most important topic.

  • Mongo Like Candy says:

    God Bless Lora Reinbold…………..seems to be the only one in State Govt concerned about our God Given, Constitutionally protected rights! Gov Dunleavy sure showed us he doesn’t give to craps about them.

  • Ed Martin Jr says:

    I listened to both these individuals testimony, great presentations well needed in todays movement of wonk takeover of our liberties un- warranted! The attack on the basic fundamentals of American values requires our attention NOW! Thank you Sen. Reinbold & Committee, we hope it gets the attention of all of the Legislature in swinging back the pendulum of injustice currently taken place across all areas of government!

  • Madeleine Gaiser says:

    I am proud of Senator Lora Reinbold and I still believe she is on to something and our Governor does NOT like it. He allowed someone on his staff (most likely a lawyer like Ben Stevens) to write that vicious attack on her and then leak it to the media. Why not unload and go off on Kelly Merrick and or L. Stutes? And Dan Fagan and others say Lora is unhinged or playing the victim? How would any of you like it if the governor did that to you?

    • Mongo Like Candy says:

      Dan Fagan isn’t even in Alaska. He’s RINO from Louisiana pretending to be an Alaskan. But you can tell he is a passive aggressive SoyBoy wannabe.

  • Art Chance says:

    I worked at a fairly high level for both the Legislative and Executive Branches of State government. The Legislature is at a severe disadvantage in dealing with either the Executive or Judicial Branches. The Legislature has almost no subject matter experts, and the Executive Branch has thousands. The Legislature has a small legal staff which in my time there, mid-to late Nineties, was of questionable loyalty to a Republican Legislature. Division Directors do most of the water carrying in promoting Administration agendae to the Legislature. The difference between a division director and the subject matter experts who work for him/her is the director’s ability to charmingly lie to the Legislature. Unfortunately, the Legislature has almost no one to challenge the lies authoritatively. Some members work to develop authoritative knowledge of their area of responsibility and they may have a senior staffer who has true expertise in some or another area, but most legislative staff is devoted to constituent service. In essence, the Legislature must rely on the word of interested parties and on input from paid lobbyists to understand most issues. When I was director of Labor Relations in the Murkowski Administration, I had worked for or with most of the Legislative leadership and they knew and trusted me, but, that said, it was a matter for my conscience what I told them because I could have told them anything and they had nobody who could challenge me.

  • Daniel Kurka says:

    I’m so proud of Senator Lora Reinbold, and makes me really glad that I’ve always voted for her, & will continue to do so for whatever office she runs for. I’m especially thankful for her brilliant move in inviting these two highly educated speakers to educate the members of the legislator. Keep up the good job Lora!

  • NAV says:

    Sen. Reinbold is 100% correct.

  • G Aleution says:

    The US Constitution is to be defended in it’s plain language. Intensive studies by a qualified marine contractor should be mandatory for public servants before the oath to protect is accepted or stipend received to avoid usurpation if desired at this point.

  • Michael C Coons says:

    The attacks by Lora were somewhat muted yesterday. Texas, Mississippi and other Republicans States are ow opening their states and pulling back mask mandates. Point in fact, Alaska has never had a mask mandate, only in Home rule cities.

  • Mike Maslyk says:

    Governor Dunleavy has information based on what the board of health says, these are medical professionals, not misinformed politicians. I spent 8 days this past November in ICU for a heart valve replacement and chatted with the nurses. To my surprise many of them were “new” to Alaska, students in training or had recently graduated, mind you this is the ICU, not the normal floors. When I asked the nurses why there was such a shortage, they said it was the COVID patients on the same floor in a separate wing as they were more critical than the heart patients. Imagine what would happen in the hospitals if we had a mass influx of COVID patients. Can we have more listening and less talking?