State Supreme Court justices release letter on racial injustice in Alaska

Alaska Supreme Court Justices Susan M. Carney, Joel H. Bolger, Peter J. Maassen, and Daniel E. Winfree listen to the State of the Judiciary address delivered to the Legislature by Chief Justice Craig Stowers on Feb. 7, 2018. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The four justices sitting on the Alaska Supreme Court released a letter on Friday committing themselves to making the court an accessible and impartial forum.

“As we watch events unfolding in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, we are saddened to see again that the ideals on which our society is founded are far from the reality of many people’s lives,” the justices wrote. 

The letter said the court system must commit to making these ideals real.

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“We recognize that too often African-Americans, Alaska Natives, and other people of color are not treated with the same dignity and respect as white members of our communities,” the justices wrote. “And we recognize that as community members, lawyers, and especially as judicial officers, we must do more to change this reality.”

The letter, addressed to “fellow Alaskans,” was signed by Chief Justice Joel Bolger and Justices Susan Carney, Peter Maassen and Daniel Winfree. Justice Craig Stowers recently retired from the court.

The justices wrote that the country and state are built on the principle that “all of us are created equal” and that the courts are tasked with allowing people to seek remedies for their grievances and treating people fairly. 

“While so many members of our community are not heard or are not treated fairly, we must make changes,” the justices wrote. 

They wrote that they must examine what biases they bring. They also said they must continue efforts to make the court system and its judges reflect the community they serve. 

“As lawyers we must work to improve access to legal assistance for individuals and communities, breaking down barriers that keep so many people in need from having meaningful access to our courts,” they wrote.

“And we must examine why people of color continue to be incarcerated and punished at rates that far exceed those of white offenders,” the letter said. “We must also work to attract more people of color to the practice of law and, ultimately, to judicial careers.”

The justices also wrote: “As community members we must work with our neighbors to help heal the raw wounds of racism and history that have been so painfully laid bare. It is only by working together that we can hope to move beyond the pain that is so evident today.”

The letter ends with a quotation from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

It follows another open letter from the Washington Supreme Court to that state’s legal community, urging lawyers to act to confront racial injustices.