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Pro-life coalition launches campaign to unseat Alaska Supreme Court justice

Alaskans for Judicial Reform launch "No on Carney" campaign in Anchorage on Oct 5. 2020.
Alaskans for Judicial Reform launch "No on Carney" campaign in Anchorage on Oct 5. 2020.(KTUU)
Published: Oct. 5, 2020 at 7:18 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Monday, a group of conservative political leaders and abortion opponents launched a campaign against a state Supreme Court justice up on the November ballot in a retention election.

The group, Alaskans for Judicial Reform, disagrees with Justice Susan Carney’s interpretation of the law on abortion, the state’s sex offender registry and the Permanent Fund Dividend. The group says that she overstepped the judiciary’s role in decisions she made on those issues.

In Alaska, judges are appointed on a merit-based, apolitical system. The Alaska Judicial Council, an independent citizens' commission created by the Alaska Constitution, screens applicants and nominates the most qualified applicants to the governor, who then appoints judges from the list of nominees the Judicial Council provides.

Judges appear on the ballot in retention elections periodically, which allows citizens the opportunity to vote if the judge continues to hold that position or is withdrawn. A judge needs a simple majority to retain the position.

Judges are not allowed to campaign unless there is an active campaign against them. The Alaska Judicial Council is responsible for evaluating the performances of judges and justices and providing that information to the public before retention elections.

“The founders of our constitution were very clear that they wanted judges, state court judges to be accountable to the people. And this is the people’s chance to hold the judges accountable and it’s important to vote yes on the judges who are doing a good and if there were ever a judge who wasn’t doing a good job, our structure is such that citizens can vote that person out of office," Susanne DiPietro, executive director of the Alaska Judicial Council said.

Across the state, 22 judges are on the ballot for retention elections. After its review, the Council recommended each of them to be retained.

“An important part of the evaluation process is asking the court users, the people who actually go into court and see the judges how they think the judges are doing,” DiPietro said.

DiPietro said the Council’s review includes surveying every attorney in the state, along with every law enforcement officer at both municipal and state levels. Corrections officers, court employees, social services workers are also included in the performance review.

“What’s interesting to see is that some of those people lose their cases, and some of those people win their cases. But we’re asking everyone, the ones who lost and the ones who won, to evaluate the judges,” DiPietro said. “If you go to the Judicial Council’s website and look at the performance metrics given by the people we surveyed, you’ll see that the judges did very well.”

Justice Carney’s performance was evaluated at 4.6 out of 5 overall by both attorneys and court employees. Attorneys' feedback resulted in a 4.5 rating in impartiality and legal ability.

However, Alaskans for Judicial Reform say the Council’s review process is inadequate in fulling informing the public.

“They basically vote based on the minimum qualification. Essentially, how do they treat the clerk? Do they submit their documents in time? Are they polite? Stuff that’s like that. If you ask the same questions or had a council who are the legislature, it’d be like does this person show up for work on time, or do they review documents. So it’s kind of ridiculous,” Alaskans for Judicial Reform spokesperson Wendy Perkins said. “The Alaskan people, we want to actually know, how does this person vote. We vote people out of office based on how they vote. So it’s no different for judges. They need to be held accountable for the same reasons.”

November will be Justice Carney’s first retention election since she was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2016.

Alaska’s News Source reached out to Carney for comment, but did not hear back by the time of publication; however, there is also a group advocating for Carney to retain her seat.

More about the judges on the ballot in various areas can be learned at the Judicial Council’s website.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include information that there is also a group advocating for Justice Susan Carney’s retention.

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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