Check out the latest...
Misconduct Report: August 2014

Judicial selection in Alaska

From Judgepedia
Jump to: navigation, search
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

Selection of the state court judges 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

See also: Commission-selection, political appointment method of judicial selection

There are five justices on the Alaska Supreme Court, each appointed by the governor from a list of two or more nominees compiled by the Alaska Judicial Council. The initial term of a new justice is at least three years, after which the justice stands for retention in an uncontested yes-no election. Subsequent terms last ten years.[1] For more information on these elections, visit the Alaska judicial elections page.

The chief justice is chosen by vote of the other supreme court justices and serves a three-year term.[1]

Qualifications

To serve on this court, a justice 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]

Vacancies

The process of filling interim judicial vacancies is identical to that of filling ones that would occur at the end of a justice's term. The governor appoints a justice from a pool of names provided by the nominating commission. After occupying the seat for at least three years, the appointee runs in an uncontested yes-no retention election and, if retained, will serve a subsequent term of ten years.[1]

Court of Appeals

See also: Commission-selection, political appointment method of judicial selection

There are three judges on the Alaska Court of Appeals, each appointed in an identical fashion to those of the Alaska Supreme Court. Like supreme court justices, court of appeals judges serve initial terms of at least three years, but after running in a yes-no retention election they are elected to eight-year terms. The court's judicial requirements are also the same as those of the supreme court.[1]

The chief judge of the court of appeals is selected by the supreme court's own chief justice. He or she serves in that capacity for two years.[1]

Superior Court

See also: Commission-selection, political appointment method of judicial selection

The forty judges of the Alaska Superior Courts, like those of the court of appeals and supreme court, are chosen by gubernatorial appointment from a list provided by a nominating commission. After an initial term of at least three years, judges run in a yes-no retention election which enables them to occupy the bench for a full six-year term.[1]

The chief judge of the court of appeals is selected by the supreme court's own chief justice. He or she serves in that capacity for one year.[1]

The superior court's judicial requirements are the same as those of the appellate courts, except judges only need to have been an active lawyer for five years.[1]

District Courts

See also: Commission-selection, political appointment method of judicial selection

The Alaska District Courts, like all of the state's courts, select their judges by gubernatorial appointment with help from a nominating commission. They must face retention two years after their appointment and then every four years thereafter.[2]

Qualifications

To serve on one of the district courts, a judge 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.[2][3]

Alaska Judicial Council

The Alaska Judicial Council is comprised 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.[4]

The constitution states that appointments to the AJC must be made "with due consideration to area representation and without regard to political affiliation."[5] 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.[4]

Members of the AJC serve staggered six-year terms, except for the chief justice who serves for three years.[4]

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 many other states, all appointees require legislative confirmation; in Alaska, only the lay members appointed by the governor must be confirmed.[6]

History

Alaska has a unique history of judicial selection, because only recently (1959) was it established as a state. Below is a timeline noting the various stages since its inception, from the most recent to the earliest.[7]

  • 1980: The Alaska Legislature creates the court of appeals. Judges are chosen through merit selection to serve eight-year terms.
  • 1975: The legislature passes a bill, proposed by the judicial council, requiring that performance evaluations of all sitting judges be conducted by the council prior to retention elections—and that this information be made available to the public. The council also may, but is not required to, make recommendations as to whether the judges should be retained.
  • 1968: The legislature creates the district courts. The judges are to be chosen by merit selection to serve four-year terms.
  • 1959: Alaska first becomes a state. In its original constitution, a merit plan was established for the selection of supreme and superior court judges. Terms of supreme court judges were set at ten years, and those of the superior court judges were set at six years.[7]

Unsuccessful reform efforts

2002

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][9]

2001

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.[10][9]

1999

In 1999, Republican Senator Loren Leman introduced a bill SJR15 (referred to Judiciary and Finance) to amend the Alaska Constitution. The bill would have required that judicial appointees be confirmed by a majority vote of the Alaska Legislature, and it also would have reduced the terms judges serve between retention elections. Under the bill, state 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.[11] No further action was taken by the legislature on this bill.[12][9]

Selection of federal judges

United States District Court judges, who are selected from each state, go through a different selection process than that of state judges.

The district courts are served by Article III federal judges who are appointed for life, during "good behavior." They are usually first recommended by senators (or members of the House, occasionally). The President of the United States of America nominates judges, who must then be confirmed by the U.S. Senate in accordance with Article III of the United States Constitution.[13]

Step ApprovedA Candidacy Proceeds DefeatedD Candidacy Halts
1. Recommendation made by Congress member to the President President nominates to Senate Judiciary Committee President declines nomination
2. Senate Judiciary Committee interviews candidate Sends candidate to Senate for confirmation Returns candidate to President, who may re-nominate to committee
3. Senate votes on candidate confirmation Candidate becomes federal judge Candidate does not receive judgeship

See also

External links

References

AlaskaAlaska Supreme CourtAlaska Court of AppealsAlaska Superior CourtAlaska District CourtNative American Tribal CourtsUnited States District Court for the District of AlaskaUnited States Court of Appeals for the Ninth CircuitAlaska countiesAlaska judicial newsAlaska judicial electionsJudicial selection in AlaskaAlaskaTemplatewithoutBankruptcy.jpg