Dunleavy challenges judicial selection process, again, by asking for new state Supreme Court nominees

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaking in 2020 to the media. (KTUU)
Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaking in 2020 to the media. (KTUU)(KTUU)
Published: Jul. 1, 2021 at 3:40 PM AKDT|Updated: Jul. 1, 2021 at 6:30 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Gov. Mike Dunleavy wants the Alaska Judicial Council to send him a new list of nominees to fill an Alaska Supreme Court vacancy, challenging how state judges are selected, again.

Dunleavy sent a letter to the Alaska Judicial Council on Thursday, asking for it to reconsider the list of three nominees it sent to him in late May. He asks that the council consider Judge Paul Roetman, who serves in Kotzebue, to represent rural Alaska on the court.

“The people of Alaska, including myself, wonder how someone like Judge Roetman is qualified to sit where he currently is but not have his name put forward for consideration to the Alaska Supreme Court?” Dunleavy asked.

Roetman is being championed by conservatives as a nominee to the court.

Dunleavy said during a press availability on Thursday that he wants a diverse group of names sent to him, but that his administration would follow state statute and the Alaska Constitution by appointing a nominee on time.

Under state law, the governor now has a little over one week to fill the Alaska Supreme Court vacancy from a list of names sent to him by the Alaska Judicial Council. But the council may not be able to send him a new list of nominees.

Under the council’s bylaws, there are only a couple of ways for it to reconsider nominees once they are named. Those include the death or disability of a nominee or if they’ve been appointed to another position.

Rejection by the governor, the head of the executive branch, is not listed.

Susanne DiPietro, executive director of the Alaska Judicial Council, said council members were just receiving the letter and had not made a decision about what to do now.

In 2019, Dunleavy declined to name any of the three judges chosen by the council to the Palmer Superior Court within a 45-day statutory limit, but he did eventually make an appointment from the council’s list of names.

That delay, violating state law, became a central part of the ongoing recall effort against Dunleavy.

In March of 2019, former Chief Justice Joel Bolger spoke to the council about a provision in the Alaska Constitution on filling judicial vacancies.

“The governor shall fill any vacancy in an office of supreme court justice or superior court judge by appointing one of two or more persons nominated by the judicial council,” the state’s constitution reads.

Bolger, who officially retired on Wednesday, said that the governor has no wiggle room about selecting judges and cited debates during Alaska’s constitutional convention.

“It is clear that the founders intended this provision to mean exactly what it says: The governor must appoint one of the candidates nominated by the council,” Bolger said.

Dunleavy is not the first governor to butt heads with the council. In 2004, then-Gov. Frank Murkowski initially rejected a list of nominees sent to him. After a meeting with members of the judicial council, Murkowski did appoint a judge to the Anchorage Superior Court chosen by the council.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.

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