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At its 2015 Annual Meeting, the League of Women Voters of Alaska approved a study of Alaska's Judicial Appointment and Retention System. The study committee completed its activities in the fall of 2015 and presented to the Board its findings along with a series of consensus questions (see "Consensus Questions..."). Local Leagues held consensus meetings in December of 2015. A final Position Statement on Judicial Appointment and Retention was adopted in January 2016.

This website includes links to research materials gathered by the study committee for use by Local Leagues in their respective consensus meetings (see "Background").


Scope of Study 

FOCUS:

A Study Committee will be formed to research and develop a position on the process through which Alaska’s Judiciary are nominated, appointed and retained.

SCOPE:

The Scope of the Study shall include:

 ·         Alaska Judicial Appointment Process

o   Merit Based Judicial Appointments

o   Makeup of the Alaska Judicial Council

o   Judicial Nomination Process

o   Appointment Process

·         Alaska Judicial Retention Process

·         Public Accountability

BACKGROUND AND STUDY PLAN:

In the creation of our Alaska State Constitution, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention sought to insulate the judicial selection process from political bias, a natural byproduct of popular election and political appointment, by adopting a system of judicial appointment based on professional merit and qualifications.

The Alaska Judicial Council (Council) was formed, with three members appointed by the Alaska Bar Association, three members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Legislature, and presided over by the Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court, who only votes in the case of a tie. In the event of a court vacancy, the Council accepts applications, reviews qualifications, and by majority vote submits qualified nominees to the Governor, who then appoints from that list of nominees. The public weighs in on these appointments every few years with a popular vote on the retention of each judge.

In recent legislative sessions, legislation has come forward recommending changes to the make-up of the Alaska Judicial Council. As the Council is enshrined in our State Constitution, any legislatively recommended changes would be put before a popular vote. SJR 21, sponsored by Senator Pete Kelly in 2013, passed committees but was ultimately pulled from a floor vote for a lack of support.

The issue has not been put to rest however. During the most recent state election cycle, the Alaska Family Council included a question on the make-up of the Alaska Judicial Council in their candidate survey. Most recently, the Alaska Bar Rag and KTUU’s Alaska’s Political Pipeline have run stories on this issue, and there have been numerous op-eds on the topic. SJR 3, introduced in 2015, would increase the public members of the Alaska Judicial Council, which are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Legislature, to six. The Legislation passed its committee assignment and awaits action when the Legislature resumes its session in January 2016.

The delegates to the Constitutional Convention were deliberative and purposeful in deciding the make-up of the Alaska Judicial Council in their attempt to keep the Judicial Branch of Government free from political bias.   As a public, we have a vested interested in our judiciary making decisions based on application of law, rather than political whim.

The public policy question immediately before us is whether or not the current make-up of the Alaska Judicial Council best serves this purpose, or would increasing the number of public members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Legislature better serve this purpose? In order to answer that question, a LWVAK Study will be undertaken to develop a broad policy statement that will examine the process through which Alaska’s Judiciary take and keep their seats on the bench.  The study will recommend a position on a merit based system of appointment versus election, and examine whether the constitutional system now in place best serves the concept of equal justice for all. LWVUS principles will serve as the foundation for a policy statement. The Study Committee will include in its research and background:

·         Other State League policy positions (for possible concurrence)

·         Alaska Constitution

·         Historical documents from the Alaska Constitutional Convention

·         Research from such entities as :

o   Ballotpedia.org, policypedia, judgepedia

o   American Bar Association

o   ACLU

o   National Women’s Law Center

o   Brennan Center for Justice

o   National Center for State Courts

The Study Committee will organize and work over the summer to prepare draft statements for consideration by the LWVAK in late 2015, early 2016.