Senate Joint Resolution 3, “Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Alaska relating to the membership of the judicial council”. Link to the full bill: https://www.legis.state.ak.us/PDF/31/Bills/SJR003A.PDF
Our testimony on Senate Joint Resolution 3
Judicial reform is an esoteric topic. The process by which judges are selected for their positions is not something that gets most voters excited. I consider myself to be an informed voter, or at the least to be more informed than most other people; public policy is my day job after-all. But I have to confess that fully researching a list of ten or a dozen judges during retention votes is not a high priority of mine.
Instead, I defer to the judgment of the Judicial Council. Those judges that are given the thumbs up for retention by the Judicial Council are considered to be fit for their position and so are to be supported at the ballot box. Now, if I that is my process for retention votes, I ask the committee to consider a regular person who likely has never even heard of the judges they are voting to retain or not.
I share this to illustrate the power of the Judicial Council and the power of its individual members. The council is like other state boards and commissions. There are members who are members of the public and members who are members of the industry. We know that industry insiders have a natural advantage over members of the public. They know their industry. They are experts. Members of the public tend to rely on industry members for their expert, industry knowledge.
This all being said, the power of the individual members, especially those selected by the bar association seems to be clear. It is a great power. The founders of the United States worked hard to dilute authority. In the same way, the authors of the Alaska constitution sought dilute power and to ensure sovereign authority remained in the citizens of Alaska. The ballot initiative process is a good example of this goal.
The lack of legislative confirmation of all members of the Judicial Council, especially given the impact its decisions have upon a co-equal branch of government, does need to be remedied. Because Alaskans are the source of sovereign authority, this authority should be recognized through confirmation of all members of the Judicial Council.
Larry Barsukoff, JD / MBA, Alaska Policy Forum