Christian, conservative groups organize to oust Supreme Court justice

The seal of the state of Alaska hangs on April 19, 2018, behind the dais where Alaska Supreme Court justices normally hear cases in the Boney Courthouse in Anchorage. (Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

A coalition of conservative and religious leaders has launched a campaign to oust an Alaska Supreme Court justice whose rulings they oppose.

The group, Alaskans for Judicial Reform, announced its campaign against Justice Susan Carney on Monday with a news conference in front of a downtown Anchorage courthouse. Glenn Biegel, the former conservative talk radio host, is chairing the group.

Carney was appointed by Gov. Bill Walker in 2016, and must win a majority of votes in her “retention” election this year to keep her seat on the five-member Supreme Court. 

The Alaska Judicial Council, the nonpartisan state commission charged with helping to vet and select judicial candidates, recommends that residents vote to retain Carney. That’s based in part on her average 4.6 rating, on a 5-point scale, in performance surveys by more than 250 Alaska attorneys and 40 court system employees.

The framers of the Alaska Constitution created the judicial council, which is made up of three attorneys chosen by the Alaska Bar Association, three members of the public chosen by the governor plus the Supreme Court’s chief justice. 

Social conservatives have long criticized that composition of the council, saying it’s skewed toward attorneys who aren’t accountable to the public. But they’ve failed in their efforts to amend the Constitution to expand the council’s membership.

Alaskans for Judicial Reform is taking issue with Carney’s rulings in three different cases. 

Among them is one where she joined a majority opinion finding that a man convicted of a sex offense outside Alaska should be allowed to ask a judge for an exemption from the state’s registration law if he could prove he’s no longer a danger to the public.

Governor Walker, Justice Susan Carney from Faibanks, and Justice Dana Fabe from Anchorage. (Wesley Early/APRN)

The second is an opinion Carney wrote last year that invalidated an Alaska law that limited abortions covered by the state-federal Medicaid program to those deemed to be “medically necessary.” And the third was a unanimous opinion she joined in 2017 that ruled that Walker had the authority to veto part of the annual Permanent Fund dividend payment to residents.

It’s rare for voters to reject a judge up for retention, though that happened in 2018 to an Anchorage Superior Court judge, Michael Corey, who approved a controversial plea agreement. Social conservatives tried and failed to oust a former Alaska Supreme Court justice, Dana Fabe, in 2010, and a different Anchorage Superior Court judge, Sen Tan, in 2012.