Governor Bill Walker made an appointment a few weeks ago that has received little attention but that produced great benefit to the state and its people. I refer to the governor’s appointment of Loretta Bullard of Nome to the Alaska Judicial Council. The appointment is a strong one not only because of Ms. Bullard’s obvious qualifications to sit on the Council — more on that below — but because it illustrates that Alaska’s system of appointing individuals to serve on the Alaska Judicial Council is working and has served the people of Alaska well for 56 years.
At the time our state constitution was drafted, the drafters had the wisdom to set in place a system which was minimally influenced by partisan politics. This was a model in its time. Our Constitution gives the Judicial Council several duties, the most important of which is to nominate persons to the governor for appointment to the bench. The Council is composed of citizen-volunteers (three non-attorneys appointed by the governor and confirmed by the legislature, three attorneys elected by members of the Alaska Bar Association (ABA) and appointed by the ABA’s Board of Governors and Alaska’s chief justice, who chairs the Council. The Council has always nominated applicants on the ‘merit’ principle, looking for candidates with intelligence, judicial temperament, integrity, suitable experience, and the like. Recently, Alaska Senator Pete Kelly has proposed to amend the Alaska Constitution to pack it with gubernatorial appointees, doubling the number of non-attorney members, and requiring attorney members to be confirmed by the legislature. This attempt, embodied in Senate Joint Resolution 3 now before the legislature, is a bad proposal because it would politicize the appointment of individuals to serve on the Alaska Judicial Council and most likely, politicize the nomination of individuals to be considered for various judgeships.
One of the arguments proposed by the sponsors of SJR 3 is that a larger Council would support diversity because it would allow for the appointment of rural persons to the Council. Of course, there was nothing prohibiting recent governors from making such appointments under the current law. And now Governor Walker, in appointing a highly-qualified Native woman from Nome to the Judicial Council, has shown clearly that the Council makeup did not have to be expanded in order to serve those values.
There is no doubt that Loretta Bullard is a highly qualified appointee. She has served for over two decades as president of Kawerak, Inc., the Alaska regional Native non-profit corporation that provides employment, social, economic, and other services to the residents of the Bering Straits region and that is headquartered in Nome. Kawerak has a budget approaching $25 million and employs 225 full and part-time staff. In addition, she served on the Alaska Rural Justice and Law Enforcement Commission, giving her invaluable insight into the workings of the justice system in rural Alaska and steps to be taken to improve it. While on that Commission, she served with every current and former attorney general of Alaska from 1994 to 2014. She has held numerous positions of responsibility and authority. She has testified before the United States Congress. In short, Loretta Bullard has the background, training, and experience to be an excellent member of the Alaska Judicial Council.
Governor Walker deserves the thanks of every Alaskan for putting a person with Loretta Bullard’s qualifications, background, experience, and temperament on the Council. And Loretta Bullard deserves the thanks of every Alaskan for taking on this important volunteer work in an effort to guarantee that Alaska continues to enjoy the best state judiciary in the country.
Nicole Borromeo is General Counsel for the Alaska Federation of Natives.