We shouldn’t be surprised that, in an era where nearly everything has become politicized, the retention of Alaska’s judges has too. As a branch of state government, there has always been some small degree of politics in the judiciary — judges are initially appointed by the governor, after all, who is more likely to nominate like-minded candidates to the bench. But compared to the Legislature and governor, the judicial branch is an oasis away from rank partisanship, which is just how Alaska’s constitutional framers planned it.
Lately, however, the same partisans who demand fealty and adherence to political dogma from the executive and legislative branches have their eyes set on the judiciary, leading campaigns against judges who they feel are failing to embrace their political agenda. This year, their target is Alaska Supreme Court Justice Sue Carney, who’s up for her first retention vote.
In an election that many Alaskans are calling “the most important of our lifetimes,” with the presidency and control of the US Senate on the line, as well as control of the Alaska House and possibly even the Alaska Senate, and ballot propositions that will determine whether Alaska’s oil tax regime and our election laws will be changed, it is tempting to take a pass on the last part of the ballot --- the part dealing with retention of judges. Don’t do it. Finish the ballot.
Alaska’s judicial selection and retention system is the best in the world. It focuses on finding the best qualified candidates for the governor to choose from, then gives the voters the last say, by requiring every judge within three years of appointment to go before the voters to determine if the judge will be retained. And the voters don’t have to vote blind, because the Judicial Council --- a citizen body created by the Alaska Constitution --- gathers an immense amount of information about the judge’s performance and makes it available to the electorate before the election.
We are former Attorneys General of the State of Alaska. We served Republican, Democratic, and Alaska Independence party governors. We were appointed by Governors Egan, Sheffield, Cowper, Hickel, Knowles, Parnell, and Walker. Our service stretches back over 50 years.
We support the retention of Justice Susan Carney on the Supreme Court of Alaska. Justice Carney has served the people of this state with distinction, and clearly deserves to be retained in office. Her ratings in the Judicial Council poll of all the state’s practicing attorneys are among the highest ever received by any judicial officer. These ratings represent the high quality of her work.
As Yogi Berra would say, “It’s like deja vu all over again.” Once again, just a couple of weeks before the Nov. 3 election, the same old players are back at the same old game.
Echoing their 2010 and 2016 unsuccessful attacks on our independent judiciary, those with a narrow and divisive religious agenda are this time around targeting Alaska Supreme Court Justice Susan Carney in a retention vote.
Most Alaskans have little personal knowledge or information concerning how state judges and justices are performing their jobs. Thus, over the course of my time as a lawyer in Alaska, friends and acquaintances who are deciding whether to vote to retain a judge or justice have often asked me for my evaluation of that judge or justice.
Alaska Supreme Court Justice Susan Carney is among the judges up for retention on the general election ballot this year. Unfortunately, she is facing a last-minute campaign against her retention, announced just recently, that is being conducted by people who disagree with a handful of decisions in which she has participated as a member of our Supreme Court. In light of that campaign, I have decided to publicly offer my views concerning Justice Carney’s retention.
The right-wing men of the cloth attacking the independent judiciary in Alaska claim their campaign against Supreme Court Justice Sue Carney has nothing to do with her “character or qualifications.”
That’s a revealing comment from the sermonizers of the Anchorage Baptist Temple and the Bible Baptist Church and True North Church in Fairbanks.
The three men don’t understand this, but Carney deserves to remain on the court precisely because of her character and qualifications.
The retention of Alaska’s justices and judges often gets little attention. This year partisans are sadly attacking two bright women for following the law and for properly refusing to use their personal religious or political views against people who find themselves in court seeking fairness and justice. People are entitled to have their cases decided fairly, not by political judges predisposed towards one side or the other.