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Alaska Supreme Court
Established1959
LocationAnchorage
Fairbanks
Juneau
Composition methodMissouri plan with retention elections
Authorized byAlaska State Constitution
Appeals toSupreme Court of the United States
Judge term length10 years
Number of positions5
WebsiteOfficial site
Chief Justice
CurrentlyPeter J. Maassen
SinceFebruary 7, 2023

The Alaska Supreme Court is the state supreme court for the U.S. state of Alaska. Its decisions are binding on all other Alaska state courts, and the only court its decisions may be appealed to is the Supreme Court of the United States. The Alaska Supreme Court hears appeals from lower state courts and also administers the state's judicial system.

The court consists of five justices, one of whom is internally chosen to serve as chief justice for a three-year term. The justices are appointed by the governor of Alaska from slates of candidates approved by the Alaska Judicial Council, an independent commission of Alaskan lawyers and lay citizens. Each justice faces a judicial retention election after their third year of service and once every ten years thereafter.

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.

History

Alaska's supreme court was founded along with the rest of Alaska's court system, about six months after statehood. From 1884 until the establishment of Alaska Supreme Court, the United States Territorial District Court for the District of Alaska was the highest judicial body in Alaska.[1]

The court originally consisted of two associate justices and a chief justice. In 1967, the court was expanded to five justices, and the chief justice was restricted to a three-year term.[2]

Appointment and retention

Like all Alaska state court judges, Alaska Supreme Court justices are appointed under a Missouri Plan system. The governor of Alaska appoints justices from lists of qualified candidates submitted to him or her by the Alaska Judicial Council, an independent seven-member commission composed of at least three lawyers and at least three non-lawyers from various parts of the state appointed on a non-partisan basis. 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.

Jurisdiction

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.

Decisions

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.

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 chief justice, Peter Maassen began his term in February 2023, succeeding Justice Daniel Winfree.

Current membership

Main article: List of justices of the Alaska Supreme Court

Justice Born Joined Chief Justice Term ends Mandatory retirement[a] Appointed by Law school
Peter J. Maassen, Chief Justice (1955-01-14) January 14, 1955 (age 69) August 9, 2012 2023–present 2026 2025 Sean Parnell (R) Michigan
Susan M. Carney 1961 (age 62–63) August 26, 2016 2030 2031 Bill Walker (I) Harvard
Dario Borghesan (1979-12-11) December 11, 1979 (age 44) July 1, 2020 2025 2049 Mike Dunleavy (R) Michigan
Jennifer S. Henderson (1976-06-10) June 10, 1976 (age 47) July 7, 2021 2025 2046 Mike Dunleavy (R) Yale
Jude Pate March 22, 2023 2026 Mike Dunleavy (R) Lewis & Clark
  1. ^ Justices must retire from the court when they reach the age of 70.[3]

See also

References

  1. ^ Naske, Claus-M. (July 1985). "A History of the Alaska Federal District Court System 1884-1959, and the Creation of the State Court System" (PDF). Retrieved 2021-12-15.
  2. ^ Bryner, Alex (25 February 2004). "The State of the Judiciary" (Press release).
  3. ^ "Alaska Constitution - Article IV – The Judiciary - § 11. Retirement".