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President Obama nominates Alaska jurist to 9th Circuit panel

Alaska Supreme Court Justice Morgan Christen represented the state in litigation after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Conservatives may oppose her due to a prior involvement with Planned Parenthood.

May 19, 2011|By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times

President Obama has nominated an Alaska Supreme Court justice who earlier served on Planned Parenthood's board and battled Big Oil over the Exxon Valdez spill to a seat on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The White House announced late Wednesday that it was proposing Justice Morgan Christen for one of three open seats on the San Francisco-based appeals court.

The proposed elevation of the 49-year-old Washington state native was made on the eve of a contentious vote called in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Obama's first nomination to the 9th Circuit, that of UC Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu, which has languished in the Senate for 15 months.

Christen was named to the Alaska high court by then-Gov. Sarah Palin in 2009, but the choice was largely forced on the conservative by state law requiring the governor to choose between two candidates put forward by the Alaska Judicial Council.

Christian and anti-abortion groups like Alaska Family Council opposed Christen's appointment to the Alaska Supreme Court, citing her service as a board member of Planned Parenthood while a lawyer in private practice.

Christen, a University of Washington graduate with a law degree from Golden Gate University School of Law, joined the law firm now known as K&L Gates in 1987. As part of her work with the firm, she represented the state of Alaska in litigation after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Both Alaska senators, Republican Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Mark Begich, said they would work to confirm Christen when her nomination goes before the Senate.

The Senate last year quickly confirmed Obama's second 9th Circuit appointment, U.S. District Judge Mary H. Murguia of Arizona, but has repeatedly failed to confirm Liu amid conservatives' allegations that he is too liberal.

carol.williams@latimes.com

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