Frequently Asked Questions about Selection

How Does Alaska Choose Its Judges?

Based on a review of what worked best in other states to achieve a fair, independent, impartial, and accountable judiciary, Alaska’s constitutional framers established a merit selection system for choosing judges and a retention election system for retaining them.

What is Merit Selection?

The Alaska Judicial Council, a citizen’s commission, screens applicants for judgeships and nominates the two or more most qualified applicants to the governor. The governor must appoint a judge from among the Council’s nominees

Who is on the Alaska Judicial Council?

The Alaska Judicial Council has three public (non-lawyer) members and three lawyer members. The chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court is the chair of the Council, but only votes when necessary.

The governor appoints the public members, and the legislature confirms them. The lawyer members are appointed by the Board of Governors of the Alaska Bar Association. Each member serves a six-year term. Terms are staggered so that one member is appointed every year. Members come from different areas of the state. Council members serve as volunteers. Click here to see a list of current council members.

How Does the Judicial Council Gather Information About Judicial Applicants?

The Council reviews the applicant’s legal and life experience, education, and community service. It surveys Alaskan lawyers about the qualifications of each applicant. Click here to see a technical report. The Council contacts an applicant’s present and past employers and references, and sends questionnaires to judges and lawyers involved in cases handled by the applicant. The Council investigates the applicant’s credit history and any disciplinary matters, criminal records, and lawsuits. The Council investigates any potential conflict of interest issues and other possible concerns. The Council assesses an applicant’s writing sample. It holds a public hearing, and encourages the public to comment about applicants. Finally, Council members interview each applicant.

How do Judicial Council Members Decide Who is “Most Qualified”?

Council members apply the following criteria when considering which applicants are most qualified for a particular judicial position:

  • Professional Competence – Intellect, diligence, legal knowledge, organizational and administrative skills, ability to work and communicate well with various people
  • Integrity – Consistent history of honesty and high moral character
  • Fairness – Ability to be impartial to all, and commitment to equal justice under the law
  • Temperament – Compassion, humility, and a history of courtesy and civility
  • Judgment and Common Sense - Balance between knowledge and practical reality
  • Legal Experience – Amount and breadth of an applicant’s legal experience, and the suitability of that experience for the position sought
  • Life Experience – Diversity of experience, exposure to persons of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and demonstrated interests in areas outside the legal field
  • Public Service – Commitment to the community generally, and to improving access to the justice system in particular

What are the Benefits of Merit Selection?

Alaska’s judicial selection system focuses on merit-based, apolitical evaluation of the applicant’s professional qualifications. Merit selection ensures that every judge is well-qualified. Merit selection increases the likelihood of fair, honest, independent, and impartial courts.

The merit selection and retention process was designed to reduce outside influences on the judiciary. Applicants need not make promises to, or raise money from, individuals or special interests to obtain a judgeship. Alaska does not experience the problems that occur when elected judges make promises to, and raise money from people and attorneys who appear before them.

To watch a video of retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor commenting on the importance of a fair and impartial judiciary, click here.

How Can Someone Learn More About Merit Selection in Alaska?

Alaska’s merit selection process is among the most transparent in the nation. The Alaska Judicial Council makes applicants’ names and most of their written applications available to the public. Alaska is only one of two merit selection states where the nominating commission’s votes are open to the public. Click here to see the Council’s detailed selection procedures.