Alaska: Efforts to allow governor control over Judicial Council/merit selection system may succeed this year

Last year I mentioned the various plans introduced and advanced in Alaska to have the state’s Judicial Council, which functions as the merit selection commission and performance evaluation commission for judges in the state, expanded so as to allow the governor to control a majority of the Council.

That plan (SJR 21 of 2014) failed, according to media reports, when Republican Senator Click Bishop (Fairbanks) balked, leaving proponents with only 13 of the 14 Senate votes needed. Bishop was challenged in a primary for that vote, but beat back the challenge.

This year, however, Republicans may have effectively achieved the 14 votes needed even without Bishop, with 13 GOP Senators in the Senate plus 2 Democrats caucusing with them. As a result SJR 3 of 2015 has already been prefiled. The constitutional amendment contains four provisions:

  1. Expands Judicial Council from 7 to 10; chief justice remains chair
  2. Provides governor to name majority of council members (6 out of 10) and that those 6 be non-attorneys
  3. Requires all members be confirmed by legislature (currently only Governor’s picks need be confirmed)
  4. Provides quorum of 7 to take any action

The bill is identical to its 2014 counterpart and similar to the House version (HJR 33 of 2014), the key differences being the House wanted all Judicial Council members (the 3 attorneys appointed by the board of governors of the Alaska Bar Association + the 6 non-attorneys chosen by the governor) confirmed by the legislature and would have let the Council operate with a quorum of 5 rather than 7.

SJR 3 has not yet been assigned to a committee. If approved, it would be put onto the November 2016 ballot.