Alaska High Court: Implement Same-Sex Benefit Program

December 22, 2006 ( - The Alaska Supreme Court has thrown out a lower court ruling ordering clarifications for administrative rules on benefits for same-sex partners of state employees and retirees, and ordered the regulations be put in place by January 1, 2007.

By Fred Schneyer | December 22, 2006

Even though state Superior Court Judge Stephanie Joannides had ruled the regulations were unconstitutional because they made enrollment too difficult, the justices asserted that their June 2006 instruction referring the matter to Joannides was to simply oversee implementation of the new program and not to peruse the individual rules for their constitutionality.

The high court said anyone unhappy with the program can mount a new legal challenge after it is implemented.

"Constitutional review of such details at the remedial stage of this case would hamper the primary goal of expeditious compliance and exceed the scope of the remedies sought in the original complaint," the justices wrote. "Accordingly, absent a basis for finding bad faith, discriminatory intent, or clear facial invalidity, we hold that the regulations adopted by the state must be accorded the usual presumption of constitutionality and must be reviewed under the test that applies when a regulation is challenged on non-constitutional grounds: as long as the regulations attempt to offer the benefits mandated by our opinion in a rational and non-arbitrary manner, they must be approved."

The Alaska Department of Administration put out the regulations to comply with the Supreme Court's October 2005 ruling mandating benefits for same-sex domestic partners who were in committed relationships with state workers and retirees. The case sparking the 2005 ruling was filed by the Alaska Civil Liberties Union and several state employees and retirees.

In their latest decision, the justices made it abundantly clear their primary immediate focus was to get the program activated.  

"We conclude that the regulations adopted by the Commissioner of Administration are valid. We further agree with and uphold the state of Alaska's position that the commissioner had authority to adopt the disputed regulations, including both those affecting medical benefits and those affecting benefits under the state's retirement systems," the court ruled. "We therefore vacate (Joannides') decision, approve  the regulations as adopted, declare those regulations to be deemed effective, and direct the state of Alaska to comply with the January 1, 2007 deadline."

In a statement posted to her Web site, AlaskaGovernor Sarah Palin pledged to follow the high court's dictate, despite her personal opposition to the same-sex benefit program.


The Supreme Court ruling in State of Alaska v. Alaska Civil Liberties Union et al, Alaska, Case S-12480, 12/19/06, is here .