Like voters, judges make multiple
The Nov. 8 election will give Alaska’s voters the opportunity to endorse its judiciary — at least those listed on the ballot. This is an important and necessary part of the judicial system. For most judges, it is routine. For others, it can be tense.
Crafters of the Alaska Constitution did a wonderful job in designing the judicial branch of government. Other states, when examining and considering changes to their systems, often look to Alaska as an outstanding example.
Many of those other states hold elections for judges similar to filling local, legislative, congressional and presidential offices. Just imagine if Alaska’s judges had to raise money to run a campaign in order to become a judge. At an election’s end, judges would be beholden to donors.
That’s not the case in Alaska. Here, attorneys interested in becoming judges apply through the Alaska Judicial Council, which is chaired by the Alaska Supreme Court chief justice and made up of three lawyers selected by the Alaska Bar Association and three non-attorney members chosen by the governor. These members evaluate applications and interview the candidates, recommending the most qualified to the governor, who makes the final selection.
The names of those selected for various judicial openings appear on the ballot in the state’s most immediate election, giving the public a second opportunity to support or oppose them. Their first opportunity is during the interview process. And, again, the judges’ names appear on the ballot for public response periodically throughout their careers.
It’s about the most apolitical system available. It also holds judges accountable to the public, and prevents the public from unduly influencing judicial rulings.
Ketchikan-area voters will see the names of seven judicial candidates on the ballot — Supreme Court justices Joel Bolger and Peter Maassen, Court of Appeals Judge Marjorie Allard, First Judicial District Superior Court judges David George of Sitka, Philip Pallenberg of Juneau and Trevor Stephens of Ketchikan, and First Judicial District Court Judge Tom Nave of Juneau.
The Judicial Council, as directed by the state Constitution, evaluated all of the justices and judges on Ketchikan’s ballot, as well as those on ballots throughout the state. The council recommended that all be retained, determining they possess the qualities believed to be necessary for judicial duties — integrity, diligence, impartiality, fairness, temperament and legal ability. Plus, they manage their caseloads and do well in performing their duties both in and out of the courtroom, according to the council.
That’s the hoped-for conclusion. After all, even before taking the bench, the judges undergo a thorough vetting.
By the time they reach the Supreme Court, if that’s their destiny, they’ve been through numerous reviews.
It’s the justices who deal with some of the state’s most publicly divisive issues, such as abortion and parental consent.
This is a hot topic for Alaska Family Action, which in 2010 supported a ballot measure endorsed by 90,000 Alaska voters to give parents the right to be involved in abortion decisions for their under-age daughters. The Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional.
As a result, Family Action is lobbying against retention of the Supreme Court’s justices on this year’s statewide ballot — Bolger and Maassen.
Whether voters agree, as thousands did, with the result of the ballot measure, or with the justices’ ruling, the point in voting to retain judges shouldn’t be about a single issue of a special interest group.
First, voters might lose a justice who would agree with them on 99 percent of other issues or who might only agree with them on the issue in question.
Second, by the time judges becomes justices, they are Alaska’s leading legal experts. That’s needed for all cases rising to the highest court in the state.
In conclusion, Alaska’s justices and judges on the ballot are the best the state has to offer Alaskans. Not liking one of their decisions is not akin to a poor judicial performance.
When voters look at how they carry out their duties, judgment should be of the whole package. That’s the true measure of a justice or judge.
— Ketchikan Daily News, Oct. 15, 2016