Alaska Supreme Court
The Alaska Supreme Court is the state supreme court in the state of Alaska's judicial department.
The supreme court is composed of the chief justice and four associate justices, who are all appointed by the governor of Alaska, face judicial retention elections and who choose one of their own members to serve a three-year term as Chief Justice. The decisions of the Alaska Supreme Court are binding on all other Alaska state courts, and the only other court that may reverse or modify those decisions is the Supreme Court of the United States.
The supreme court hears appeals from lower state courts and also administers the state's judicial system. It hears cases on a monthly basis in Anchorage, approximately quarterly in Fairbanks and Juneau, and as needed in other Alaska communities. The court prefers to hear oral argument in the city where the case was heard in the trial court.
Rulings on ballot measures
Appointment and retention
Justices, like other Alaska state court judges, are selected in accordance with the Missouri Plan. The governor of Alaska appoints a supreme court justice from a list of qualified candidates submitted by the Alaska Judicial Council. To be eligible for appointment, a person must be a citizen of the United States and a resident of Alaska for five years prior to appointment. A justice must be licensed to practice law in Alaska at the time of appointment and must have engaged in the active practice of law for eight years. The appointed justice must be approved by the voters on a nonpartisan ballot at the first statewide general election held more than three years after appointment; thereafter, each justice must participate in another retention election every ten years.
The Chief Justice
The five supreme court justices, by majority vote, select one of their members to be the chief justice. The chief justice holds that office for three years and may not serve consecutive terms. The chief justice is also the administrative head of the Alaska Court System.
The supreme court has final state appellate jurisdiction in both civil and criminal law matters. It must accept appeals from final decisions by the superior court in civil cases (including cases which originated in administrative agencies). Until the creation of the court of appeals in 1980, the supreme court was also required to accept appeals from final decisions in criminal cases; now, however, the court of appeals fills this role, although the supreme court still has jurisdiction to exercise its discretion to accept appeals from decisions of the court of appeals (or upon certification from the court of appeals that the case involves a significant question of constitutional law or an issue of substantial public interest). In addition, the supreme court may, at its discretion, hear petitions from non-final decisions by lower courts or original applications in matters in which relief is not otherwise available, including admission to the bar association and attorney discipline matters, as well as questions of state law certified from the United States federal courts.
The court meets after oral argument and on a bi-weekly basis to confer on cases argued orally and on cases submitted on the briefs. The court usually announces its decisions of the cases by issuing opinions for official publication (in Westlaw, the Pacific Reporter and the Alaska Reporter) as well as memorandum opinions and judgments (MO&Js) and orders summarily ruling on the merits of cases or dismissing them. Although the MO&Js and most orders are not published, the MO&Js are available for public inspection at the Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau offices of the clerk of the appellate courts, and the orders are filed in the clerk's Anchorage office. Current MO&Js are also available on the Alaska Court System website.
Rules and administration
Under the Alaska Constitution, the supreme court establishes rules for the administration of all courts in the state and for practice and procedure in civil and criminal cases. The supreme court has further adopted rules for the practice of law in Alaska and procedural rules for children's matters, probate, and appeals. The Alaska Legislature may change the court's procedural rules by passing an act expressing its intent to do so by a two-thirds majority of both houses.