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AK judicial nominee confirmed

Posted: December 16, 2011 - 1:05am

ANCHORAGE — The U.S. Senate confirmed an Alaska Supreme Court justice Thursday to fill a vacancy on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Senators voted 95-3 to accept the nomination of Morgan Christen, who becomes the first Alaska woman to serve on the 9th Circuit. Voting no were Republicans Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Rand Paul of Kentucky and David Vitter of Louisiana.

Christen, 50, said after the vote she was pleased by the outcome.

“It’s quite overwhelming and humbling, for sure,” she said. “I really didn’t know what to expect.”

Christen will remain in Anchorage and said she expects to do quite a bit of traveling in her new role. She expects to receive her judicial commission within a week or two and said her best guess is she’ll begin the new post with the San Francisco-based court in January. For now, she will remain busy on the state Supreme Court, she said.

Circuit judges receive an annual salary of $184,500, according to 9th Circuit officials.

U.S. Democratic Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska recommended Christen to President Barack Obama for the opening created when Judge Andrew Kleinfeld of Fairbanks took senior status, an alternative to retirement that allows judge to maintain an office and handle at least 25 percent of an active judge’s caseload.

“She is one of the greatest legal minds and one of the most caring individuals Alaska has to offer,” Begich said of Christen on the Senate floor before the vote. “I am honored to support her for this position and to count her as a friend.”

Christen also had the support of Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Before the vote, Murkowski praised Christen as an experienced, well-rounded lawyer and jurist.

“She is an individual with a keen intellect and an impeccable reputation for integrity,” Murkowski said. “She is highly regarded across the ideological spectrum in Alaska as a judge who keeps politics and ideology off the bench.”

Christen served seven years as a Superior Court judge and was appointed to the state Supreme Court in 2009 by then-Gov. Sarah Palin.

The appointment to the state’s high court went against the urgings of a conservative group because Christen once served on the board of Planned Parenthood. She served on the board in the 1990s before the organization started performing abortions in Alaska in 2003.

The Alaska Family Council, a conservative Christian group, said the pick would put another activist on the court and she was the more liberal of two judges recommended for the post by the Alaska Judicial Council, an independent citizen’s commission that evaluates judicial appointments for the governor.

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