Alaska Supreme Court
|Alaska Supreme Court|
|Composition method||Missouri plan with retention elections|
|Authorized by||Alaska State Constitution|
|Appeals to||Supreme Court of the United States|
|Judge term length||10 years|
|Number of positions||5|
|Since||July 1, 2018|
The decisions of the Alaska Supreme Court are binding on all other Alaska state courts, and the only court its decisions may be appealed to is the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court hears appeals from lower state courts and also administers the state's judicial system.
It hears cases on a monthly basis in Anchorage, approximately quarterly in Fairbanks and Juneau, and as needed in other Alaska communities. The court prefers to hear oral arguments in the city where the case was heard in the trial court.
The Supreme Court is composed of the Chief Justice and four associate justices, who are all appointed by the governor of Alaska (see List of Governors of Alaska) and face judicial retention elections and who choose one of their own members to serve a three-year term as Chief Justice.
Appointment and retention
Justices, like other Alaska state court judges, are selected in accordance with the Missouri Plan. The governor of Alaska appoints a supreme court justice from a list of qualified candidates submitted by the Alaska Judicial Council. To be eligible for appointment, a person must be a citizen of the United States and a resident of Alaska for five years prior to appointment. A justice must be licensed to practice law in Alaska at the time of appointment and must have engaged in the active practice of law for eight years. The appointed justice must be approved by the voters on a nonpartisan ballot at the first statewide general election held more than three years after appointment; thereafter, each justice must participate in another retention election every ten years.
The Chief Justice
The five supreme court justices, by majority vote, select one of their members to be the chief justice. The chief justice holds that office for three years and may not serve consecutive terms. The chief justice is also the administrative head of the Alaska Court System. The current chief justice, Joel Bolger, began his term in July 2018, succeeding Justice Craig Stowers.
Previous chief justices were:
- Craig Stowers (2015–2018)
- Dana Fabe (2000–2003, 2006–2009, 2012–2015)
- Walter L. Carpeneti (2009–2012)
- Alexander O. Bryner (2003–2006)
- Allen T. Compton (1996–1997)
- Daniel A. Moore, Jr. (1992–1996)
- Warren Matthews (1987–1990, 1997–2000)
- Edmond W. Burke (1981–1984)
- Robert Boochever (1975–1978)
- Jay Rabinowitz (1972–1975, 1978–1981, 1984–1987, 1990–1992)
- George Boney (1970–1972)
- Buell A. Nesbett (1959–1970)
The supreme court has final state appellate jurisdiction in both civil and criminal law matters. It must accept appeals from final decisions by the superior court in civil cases (including cases which originated in administrative agencies). Until the creation of the court of appeals in 1980, the supreme court was also required to accept appeals from final decisions in criminal cases; now, however, the court of appeals fills this role, although the supreme court still has jurisdiction to exercise its discretion to accept appeals from decisions of the court of appeals (or upon certification from the court of appeals that the case involves a significant question of constitutional law or an issue of substantial public interest). In addition, the supreme court may, at its discretion, hear petitions from non-final decisions by lower courts or original applications in matters in which relief is not otherwise available, including admission to the bar association and attorney discipline matters, as well as questions of state law certified from the United States federal courts.
The court meets after oral argument and on a bi-weekly basis to confer on cases argued orally and on cases submitted on the briefs. The court usually announces its decisions of the cases by issuing opinions for official publication (in Westlaw, the Pacific Reporter and the Alaska Reporter) as well as memorandum opinions and judgments (MO&Js) and orders summarily ruling on the merits of cases or dismissing them. Although the MO&Js and most orders are not published, the MO&Js are available for public inspection at the Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau offices of the clerk of the appellate courts, and the orders are filed in the clerk's Anchorage office. Current MO&Js are also available on the Alaska Court System website.
Rules and administration
Under the Alaska Constitution, the supreme court establishes rules for the administration of all courts in the state and for practice and procedure in civil and criminal cases. The supreme court has further adopted rules for the practice of law in Alaska and procedural rules for children's matters, probate, and appeals. The Alaska Legislature may change the court's procedural rules by passing an act expressing its intent to do so by a two-thirds majority of both houses.
- Daniel E. Winfree, Associate Justice, was appointed on November 16, 2007 by Governor Sarah Palin, replacing Justice Alexander O. Bryner. His next retention election is in 2024.
- Craig F. Stowers, Associate Justice, was appointed by Governor Sean Parnell on December 2, 2009, replacing Justice Robert L. Eastaugh. He served as Chief Justice for a term commencing July 1, 2015 and ending July 2, 2018. Stowers had previously been appointed to the state Superior Court in 2004.
- Peter J. Maassen, Associate Justice, was appointed by Governor Sean Parnell on August 9, 2012, replacing Justice Morgan L. Christen, who now sits as a Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Maassen had previously been in private practice.
- Joel H. Bolger, Chief Justice, was appointed by Governor Sean Parnell on January 25, 2013, effective February 1, replacing Justice Walter L. Carpeneti. He was elected Chief Justice for a term commencing July 2, 2018. Chief Justice Bolger had previously served as a Judge on the Alaska Court of Appeals, the Kodiak Superior Court, and the Valdez District Court.
- Susan M. Carney, Associate Justice, was appointed by Governor Bill Walker on May 12, 2016, effective July 2016, replacing Justice Dana Fabe. Justice Carney had previously worked for the Office of Public Advocacy and the Alaska Public Defender Agency, and served as a law clerk for Justice Jay Rabinowitz.
- Cockerham, Sean (December 3, 2009). "Parnell picks Anchorage judge Stowers for Supreme Court". Anchorage Daily News. Anchorage. Archived from the original on June 10, 2011. Retrieved March 20, 2010.
- Associated Press (August 9, 2012). "Parnell appoints Anchorage lawyer to state Supreme Court". Anchorage Daily News. Anchorage. Archived from the original on May 16, 2013.
- Press Release (January 25, 2013). "Governor Elevates Bolger to Supreme Court". Archived from the original on February 27, 2014. Retrieved March 12, 2013.
- Press Release (May 12, 2016). "Governor Walker Appoints Susan Carney to Alaska Supreme Court".