Politics

Alaska Judicial Council nominates 4 for upcoming vacancy on state Supreme Court

Alaska Supreme Court

The nonpartisan Alaska Judicial Council has nominated four people for an upcoming vacancy on the Alaska Supreme Court.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy now has 45 days to select Anchorage Superior Court Judge Dani Crosby, Department of Law attorney Kate Demarest, Fairbanks attorney Aimee Oravec or Sitka Superior Court Judge Jude Pate for the state’s highest court.

If Dunleavy picks one of the female applicants, there would be three women on the five-person court, creating the first majority-female Supreme Court in state history. If he selects Pate, it would add the court’s only member off the road system. All current justices are from Fairbanks or Anchorage.

The council voted unanimously in favor of all applicants except Pate and Demarest, who each were nominated by 5-1 votes. Council member Kirstie Babcock of Soldotna voted no on Demarest. Member Geraldine Simon voted no on Pate. No council member spoke about the reasons for their votes.

Six of the council’s seven members participated in the votes; Chief Justice Daniel Winfree chairs the council and would vote to break a tie.

The council voted against the nominations of Kotzebue Superior Court Judge Paul Roetman, Anchorage attorney Holly Wells and Department of Law attorney Margaret Paton-Walsh.

[Maassen to be next chief justice of Alaska Supreme Court]

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The three, plus the four nominees, applied this summer to replace Daniel Winfree, who will retire early next year due to reaching the maximum allowed age.

Roetman, who has applied for the high court three times before, received the support of council member Babcock, but his nomination was opposed by all five other voting members.

Last year, when the council declined to nominate Roetman, Dunleavy took the unusual step of asking the council to reconsider its list of nominees. It did not, and he appointed Jennifer Stuart Henderson.

Winfree cited the Alaska Constitution before Tuesday’s vote, saying that the council’s duty is to nominate “the most highly qualified candidates” to the governor.

According to the constitution, judges are to be selected by merit, not political leaning.

The constitution also requires the council to submit at least two nominees to the governor. The council picked four, but that number could dwindle before Dunleavy’s final choice.

In November, Demarest was named one of six nominees for two Anchorage Superior Court seats, and Dunleavy has until the first week of January to make final selections. If he chooses Demarest for the Superior Court, she would no longer be in the running for the Supreme Court.

Crosby, one of the other nominees, was nominated for Supreme Court vacancies in 2020 and 2021, but Dunleavy chose other candidates in those years.

Crosby received the highest ratings of the seven applicants in an anonymous survey of state attorneys conducted this summer. Pate and Paton-Walsh tied for the second-highest scores.

When Dunleavy appoints the next Supreme Court justice in January, it will be his third pick for the state’s high court.

Justice Peter Maassen is scheduled to retire no later than January 2025, allowing Dunleavy a fourth pick before his term expires in 2026.

Originally published by the Alaska Beacon, an independent, nonpartisan news organization that covers Alaska state government.

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