Judicial selection in Alaska

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Judicial selection in the states
Judicial selection in Alaska
SealofAK.png
Alaska Supreme Court
Method:   Comm. select., Gov. appt.
Term:   10 years
Alaska Court of Appeals
Method:   Comm. select., Gov. appt.
Term:   8 years
Alaska Superior Court
Method:   Comm. select., Gov. appt.
Term:   6 years
Alaska District Court
Method:   Comm. select., Gov. appt.
Term:   4 years

Judicial selection in Alaska relies on what is known as the Missouri Plan. Sixteen other states and Washington, D.C. use a similar method of judicial selection, though Alaska is unusual because it has one judicial council for all courts and all districts statewide.

Supreme Court

Justices of the Alaska Supreme Court are chosen by gubernatorial appointment from nominating commission. The initial term of a new justice is at least three years, then the justice stands for retention. Subsequent terms lasts ten years.

The Chief Justice is chosen by a vote of the other justices on the court to a term that last three years.

In order to serve on the court, justices must be:

  • a U.S. citizen,
  • a state resident for at least five years,
  • licensed to practice law in the state,
  • active in law practice for at least eight years; and
  • under the age of 70.[1]

Court of Appeals

Judges of the Alaska Court of Appeals are appointed in the same way as those of the Supreme Court. Appellate court judges serve eight years terms.

The Chief Justice of the court is chosen by the Chief Justice on the Alaska Supreme Court.[1]

Superior Court

Judges of the Alaska Superior Court are also chosen by gubernatorial appointment. After an initial three year term, judges serve six year terms.

The Chief Justice is chosen by the Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court.

The requirements for serving on the Superior Court are the same as the appellate courts, except one only needs to be an active lawyer for five years.[1]

District Courts

Judges of the Alaska District Court are chosen by gubernatorial appointment. They must face retention two years after their appointment and then every four years thereafter.[2]

In order to serve on one of these courts, one must be:

  • at least 21 years of age;
  • a U.S. citizen;
  • a resident of Alaska for at least five years;
  • licensed to practice law in the state and active for at least three years; or
  • a magistrate for at least seven years and possessing of a law degree.[3][4]

Composition of the Judicial Council

The judicial council is composed of:

  • Three non-lawyer members who are appointed by the governor and confirmed by a majority of the legislature in joint session;
  • Three lawyer members who are appointed by the board of governors of the Alaska Bar Association; and
  • The chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court, who serves as the ex officio chair.[5]

The constitution states that appointments to the AJC must be made "with due consideration to area representation and without regard to political affiliation." This requirement is loosely worded. Comparable safeguards against nonpartisanship in other state constitutions are often more strict; they may prohibit a majority of non-ex-officio members from the same political party, for example.

Members of the AJC serve staggered six-year terms, except for the chief justice who serves for three years.

The composition of the Alaska Judicial Council is similar to that of the statewide commissions in other states. However, in other states the balance is likely to be in favor of lay members rather than lawyers. Also in other states, all appointees require legislative confirmation; in Alaska, only the lay members appointed by the governor must be confirmed.[6]

Legislative Inquiry and Reform

In 1999, Republican Senator Loren Leman introduced a bill SJR15 (referred to Judiciary and Finance) to amend the Alaska Constitution to require that judges appointed must be confirmed by a majority vote of the Alaska Legislature. It would have also reduced the terms judges serve in between retention elections. Under the bill, Alaska Supreme Court justices would be up for retention after six years instead of ten. Superior court judges would be up for retention every four years instead of six. The Senate Judiciary Committee stripped the provision requiring confirmation by the legislature from the bill before passing it out of committee. The chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee was Republican Senator Robin Taylor, who served as an Alaska district judge from 1977-1982[7]. No further action was taken by the legislature on this bill.

In 2001, Senator Robin Taylor introduced SJR22, (referred to Judiciary and Finance) which would have reduced the terms judges serve in between retention elections to the same limits prescribed by SJR15 in 1999. The bill passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Finance Committee without changes. No further action was taken by the legislature on this bill.

In 2002, Senator Gene Therriault introduced SB159, (referred to State Affairs, Judiciary, and Finance) which would have reduced the terms judges on the Alaska Court of Appeals serve between retention elections from eight to four years. The bill passed through the Senate State Affairs Committee but the term limits were changed in the bill from four to six years. No further action was taken by the legislature on this bill[8].

The Senate and House Judiciary Committees in the Alaska Legislature held a joint hearing on judicial selection in Alaska on September 30, 2004 to discuss the problems with the selection process. The members and executive director of the Alaska Judicial Council testified.[9][10]

See also

External links

References