Crime & Courts

Gov. Dunleavy picks Jennifer Stuart Henderson as new Alaska Supreme Court justice

ACLU, ACLU v Dunleavy, Boney Courthouse, Jennifer Henderson, Stephen Koteff, lawsuit

Gov. Mike Dunleavy named Anchorage Superior Court Judge Jennifer Stuart Henderson to the Alaska Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Dunleavy, who had a July 11 deadline to pick one of three judges nominated by the Alaska Judicial Council, announced his decision in a written statement Wednesday evening.

Henderson will replace Joel Bolger, who served on the state’s high court until his retirement July 1.

Dunleavy chose Henderson after initially balking at the judicial council’s list of nominees. Alaska’s constitution requires the governor to pick judges from the council’s shortlist in order to prevent cronyism and political influence on the judicial system. In an unusual — but not unprecedented — move, Dunleavy asked the council last week for more nominees.

In a letter to the council, Dunleavy also requested that it reconsider the rejection of Paul Roetman, a Kotzebue judge. Roetman was the only rural applicant and had Republican support.

The council had not responded to the governor’s request by the time of his selection.

Dunleavy’s statement on Wednesday did not say why he picked Henderson over Danya “Dani” Crosby or Yvonne Lamoureux, the two other finalists, and the governor’s office did not immediately respond to questions about the selection.

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Henderson will be the fourth woman to serve on the Alaska Supreme Court since its creation at statehood. The five-person court now includes two female members: Henderson and Susan Carney.

Seven people applied for the vacancy, and Alaska attorneys were asked to anonymously rate all seven on their skill and courtroom demeanor. Henderson received the highest rating.

Raised in San Diego, Henderson attended Claremont McKenna College and Yale Law School, where she edited the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism and directed the Temporary Restraining Order Project among other work, according to her application. She moved to Alaska after law school to work as a clerk for an Alaska Supreme Court justice, then clerked for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for one year. She became an assistant district attorney, then worked at a private law firm.

In 2012, then-Gov. Sean Parnell appointed her as an Anchorage District Court judge. Four years later, former Gov. Bill Walker appointed her to an Anchorage Superior Court seat.

She is married and has two children. She said she was a member of the Anchorage Running Club and USA Triathlon, and was a co-founder of the Southcentral Alaska chapter of Girls on the Run.

She was heavily involved in Anchorage’s therapeutic court for cases involving mental illness and more recently has volunteered her time with a project that helps determine whether defendants are competent to stand trial.

Since serving on the Superior Court, Henderson has handled numerous high-profile cases, including a 2019 lawsuit that overturned Medicaid rate cuts, and a 2020 decision that found Dunleavy acted illegally when he vetoed funding for the Alaska Court System in response to rulings on abortion.

Before the 2020 election, she ruled against Democratic U.S. House candidate Alyse Galvin in a lawsuit that sought to force the reprinting of hundreds of thousands of election ballots that said Galvin was the Democratic nominee but didn’t indicate the candidate was an independent.

Both the Galvin and Dunleavy decisions were upheld by the state Supreme Court.

James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.

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