How Alaska chooses its judges; how voters weigh in

Alaska’s constitution lays out how this state selects its judges. It is through the Alaska Judicial Council, established in Article 4, Section 8 of the Alaska constitution.

The council is an independent citizens’ commission; the constitution allows for seven members. Three must be attorneys appointed by the Alaska Bar Association. Three may not be attorneys and are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the legislature. The seventh member is the chief justice of the state supreme court, who only votes if that vote would change a decision.

This process is different from that in many states, where judges run for election. Alaska’s selection is merit based, and voters decide whether to retain a judge. According to the council, the benefits of a merit-based selection process are:

… an “apolitical evaluation of the applicant’s professional qualifications. Merit selection ensures that every judge is well-qualified. Merit selection increases the likelihood of fair, honest, independent, and impartial courts.

The merit selection and retention process was designed to reduce outside influences on the judiciary. Applicants need not make promises to, or raise money from, individuals or special interests to obtain a judgeship. Alaska does not experience the problems that occur when elected judges make promises to, and raise money from people and attorneys who appear before them.

Retention elections

Citizens enter the process at election time. Depending on which court they serve on, judges come up for retention elections on a 4- or a 10- year-cycle. Before an election, The Judicial Council evaluates the performance of judges up for retention election and makes a recommendation to voters that appears in the ballot they receive on election day. The council’s recommendation is made by casting a wide net asking for input from all members of the Alaska Bar Association, peace officers, jurors, court employees, among others. The judge also presents cases for review by the council. The process includes a public hearing and the requirement that the council make its evaluations and recommendations public 60 days before the election. Listed below are useful links for citizens to read more about the 15 judges up for retention, and about the retention election process.

Thanks for listening!




  • Susanne DiPietro, executive director, Alaska Judicial Council



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  • LIVE: Monday, October 15, 2018 at 2:00 p.m.
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