'Alaska still stands.' Chief Justice Winfree strikes hopeful note in first address
Chief Justice Daniel Winfree called for hope amid political divisions and uncertainty, calling on young people to be involved and engaged.
Good evening, Alaska!
In this edition: Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Daniel E. Winfree delivered his first—and perhaps only, given the court’s mandated retirement—State of the Judiciary address to the Legislature today, serving as the ray of persisting hope we could all use in this particularly divisive time; Fairbanks Democratic Rep. Grier Hopkins introduced a Sense of the House that seeks to condemn the Jan. 6 insurrectionists, the Oath Keepers, Holocaust whataboutism and Rep. David Eastman, and it went about exactly as you’d expect; And a small but important bill providing opportunities for essential workers is getting attention in the House.
Spice level: 🌶️🌶️
Legislative day: 23
‘Alaska still stands’
Chief Justice Daniel E. Winfree delivered his first State of the Judiciary address today, marking the first time that an Alaska-born chief justice delivered the address since its inception 50 years ago. He more than delivered for the occasion, striking an optimistic and hopeful message about where the state comes from and where it’s going. Below, I’ve pulled out some of the highlights of the speech as I would do when preparing to write up a traditional news story but, honestly, it’s best experienced by watching the address directly, which you can find here, or, at least, by reading it here. (In fact, you can find the State of the Judiciary addresses dating back to 2004 here.)
Winfree, who grew up in Fairbanks, brought a unique and much-needed perspective to the address, reflecting that he was a teenager finishing up his final year at Lathrop High School when the Legislature first invited Chief Justice George Boney to deliver the address:
“I looked back to Chief Justice Boney’s 1972 address. Despite the passage of 50 years, his opening comments resonated with me. After his greetings, he began: ‘This country is undergoing a great deal of turmoil. The basic values of society are being questioned. Citizens are growing more apprehensive about the threat posed by the lawless elements of society.’ And a few sentences later, he said: ‘Among the young people of the country, there is a growing concern and disenchantment with the way the law is being enforced… The young people have been critical of what they view as the hypocrisy of the Establishment… There is a feeling in some quarters that the poor and minority groups receive in many cases disproportionate punishment.’
“At this point, page three, I had to stop. I got a cup of coffee and sat down to reflect on the late 60s and early 70s from my then-teenage vantage point near the ends of the earth in Fairbanks, where live television had yet to appear, let alone internet. It was a time of turmoil and division.”
He reflected on the racial divisions, violence, the assassinations, the government-inflicted deaths at Kent State, rising environmental concerns and a “so-called War on Crime, seemingly focused on the poor and minorities and raising concerns about constitutional rights violations.” How that uncertainty came at a time of great change in Alaska with the construction of the trans-Alaska pipeline system and how it feels similar to today’s state of things:
As Chief Justice Boney did 50 years ago, today I acknowledge our country is undergoing a great deal of turmoil. Public divisions, focusing on national and state elections rather than wars overseas, are just as vehement. There is apprehension about lawlessness, but there are differing views on who the lawless might be. And people young and old are critical of the Establishment about racial, economic, and environmental injustice. I was one of the young ones who 50 years ago criticized the Establishment and feared for democracy’s future. Now I’m part of the Establishment. But the current pain is as visceral as it was then, and I find myself wondering why we haven’t made more progress.
Justice Winfree didn’t have some silver-bullet answer for the deep divisions that persist in our country but, instead, reflected that despite all the turmoil, all of the troubles, all of the ups and downs and shifts in political winds, that “our fundamental structure of government, and thus democracy itself, lives on. Democracy is not easy. We must be mindful to protect democracy, but we must look to history and believe democracy will survive.”