Alaska Supreme Court justice Craig Stowers will retire June 1, allowing Gov. Mike Dunleavy to select the first state supreme court justice of his term. Stowers did not disclose the reason for his retirement. The Alaska Constitution mandates retirement at age 70; Stowers is 65.
When Stowers leaves, it will be the first change in the makeup of Alaska’s highest court since 2015, when Susan Carney replaced Dana Fabe.
Asked what the governor will be seeking in a replacement, the governor’s press office said the governor will wait for the process to unfold.
“Governor Dunleavy thanks Judge Stowers for his many years of service to the Alaska Court System and the people of Alaska,” said Jeff Turner, the governor’s deputy communications director.
Stowers was appointed to the state’s highest court by Gov. Sean Parnell in 2009 and served as chief justice from 2015 through 2018. When appointed, he was endorsed by the Alaska Family Council and was considered politically conservative when compared to the other nominees.
As a justice, Stowers dissented on rulings upholding abortion rights. In 2016, Stowers was the lone justice against a ruling that threw out a law requiring parents to be notified before an underage child’s abortion.
Three years later, the Supreme Court ruled the state could not refuse Medicaid funding for “medically necessary” abortions. Stowers was again the lone dissenter.
Following the latter ruling, Dunleavy vetoed $334,700 from the budget of the Alaska Court system, saying that the courts were “the only branch of government that insists on state-funded elective abortions," and that the veto equaled the amount the state spends on abortion services.
The Alaska Judicial Council announced Monday that it will take applications for Stowers’ seat through Feb. 14. The seven-member council will vet the applications and conduct interviews at a public meeting in late May.
“The council really values input from the public, and there will be a public hearing at the May meeting,” said Susanne DiPietro, executive director of the judicial council.
After the meeting, the council will select a list of finalists for Dunleavy’s consideration. The governor will have 45 days to name a replacement.
DiPietro said that given the late-May timing of the public meeting, the governor could name a replacement before Stowers’ retirement date. Based on her experience, however, she expects a replacement to be named in June or July.
The governor’s pick to replace Stowers will appear on the 2024 statewide ballot and on the ballot every 10 years afterward. Unless a majority of voters choose to remove a judge, he or she can serve until age 70.
The annual salary of a supreme court justice is $205,179.