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.
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
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. To view the council member roster, go to the Current Council Members page.
The Council reviews the applicant’s legal and life experience, education, and community service. It surveys Alaskan lawyers about the qualifications of each applicant. 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. To view a sample of applicant's gathered information, go to the Sample Tech Report document.
Council members apply the following criteria when considering which applicants are most qualified for a particular judicial position:
In making its nominations for the most qualified applicants, the Council also considers other candidates who have applied; the position applied for; and the community in which the position is located.
The Council actively encourages qualified members of the bar to seek nomination to judicial office, making every effort to promote diversity, including gender and ethnic diversity, and strives to inform the public of Alaska’s judicial selection process.
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.
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.
The National Association of Women Judges is an excellent source of information about the importance of being an informed voter. You may read about their Informed Voters Project on their website at http://ivp.nawj.org/. The website includes a video of retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor commenting on how informed voters can insure that we have fair and impartial judges. To view the video, visit the Fair and Free-Full Film-featuring Sandra Day O'Connor. The website also includes personal testimonials from Alaskans based on their experience with Alaska's justice system.
For more information, visit theSelection Procedures page.