Alaskans should participate in the judicial selection process.
Not enough do.
That is a concern.
The process is largely conducted by the Alaska Judicial Council, which consists of three non-attorney Alaskans and three Alaska attorneys. The state Supreme Court’s chief justice participates as chair, and votes rarely, only to break a tie.
House Bill 33 seeks to change the makeup of the Council, largely for two reasons: Worries about attorney dominance on the Council, and public confusion about Council work.
Confusion could be addressed if the public participated more in the process than it currently does. The Council holds public comment periods for each judicial vacancy. The public can comment at the Council meeting in the community with the vacancy or in writing; little of either is provided to the Council, especially when considering the number of Alaskans.
The Council, as a public entity, also is available to answer questions concerning its processes.
Concerning worries about attorneys dominating the Council, that insinuates that the non-attorney members are being intimidated against voting for the best candidates. That’s simply untrue.
In most cases, it’s a mix of attorney and non-attorney votes that narrow the list of applicants for a judicial vacancy to the most qualified. That list is forwarded to the governor for the final selection.
To add additional non-attorney seats to the Council would politicize the Council, unbalancing the makeup and the power, which isn’t an environment suitable to selecting the most qualified judges. The constitution’s authors did as much as possible to eliminate politics from the process.
The Council works well as it is. It’s balanced, and the public has every opportunity to participate.
Alaskans simply should do that; that’s how we can influence the Council toward the most qualified judicial candidates.
Work with the Council; leave its makeup alone.
Ketchikan Daily News