We are writing in response to politically motivated attacks on our state judiciary that are disingenuous and misleading, threaten the fairness and integrity of Alaska’s courts, and undermine the promise of equal justice. These attacks arise in the debate over Ballot Measure 1 — whether Alaska should hold a constitutional convention — and during judicial retention elections.
Those who want a convention claim that Alaska’s constitutional provision for judicial selection and retention has resulted in judges who are not accountable to the people. This is simply not true — no state judges anywhere in the country face more intense scrutiny or higher accountability to the people they serve than Alaska’s judges. Alaskans should be fighting to protect the system that offers such transparency — not promoting destruction of this important constitutional provision.
There will be 29 judges on the ballot this year. All have received high marks from the communities they serve, and all are unanimously recommended for retention by the Alaska Judicial Council, the nonpartisan independent body charged with conducting the comprehensive, professional performance evaluations of judges standing for retention. Yet despite excellent performance evaluations, last-minute anti-retention campaigns often occur, because judges have made decisions that follow the rule of law but run afoul of special interest groups that seek different outcomes.
Alaskans should be alarmed by efforts to target judges who work hard to ensure equal and impartial justice. We should not be taken in by misinformation spread by those who would like to politicize our courts.
The attacks on the Alaska Constitution and the attacks on individual judges have nothing to do with the failings of either. Those who put our judiciary in the crosshairs do so because they object to judicial decisions with which they disagree, plain and simple. They do not take this position because the judges have done anything wrong, but because the correct legal outcome is not the outcome they desire. Alaska’s system for judicial selection and retention does not need to be fixed — because it is not broken. It works exactly as our constitutional framers intended: Alaskans are being served by judges who follow the rule of law.
Those who attack Alaska’s judiciary ignore the great strengths of our system for selecting and retaining judges. The countless Alaskans who appear in court care about the same qualities our current judicial retention system evaluates: Is the judge fair and impartial? Does the judge understand and apply the law? Is the judge patient? Does the judge demonstrate respect for those who appear in their courtroom?
When you vote this year, we urge you to protect our nonpartisan system of selecting judges by voting no on Ballot Measure 1 — no on a constitutional convention.
We also urge you to finish your ballot and vote yes to retain all of the judges on your ballot. Together, we can protect the values that continue to ensure that all Alaskans — including you — have a full and fair day in court in front of a judge selected on merit and retained because of their excellent professional performance.
Elaine Andrews served as a Judge for the Third Judicial District for 20 years and is now retired. Donna Goldsmith is a retired attorney. They are co-chairs of Alaskans for Fair Courts, and they authored this commentary on behalf of board members Bud Carpeneti, Bruce Botelho, Barb Hood, Erin Jackson-Hill, Debra O’Gara, Chuck Kopp, Jim Torgerson, Tom Amodio and Niesje Steinkruger.
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