Alaska's judicial system works, as is

Letters to the editor

Posted: Thursday, September 16, 2004

Alaska's system of selecting people to sit on the judicial bench is the fairest most objective system in the country. As set out in our constitution, it is the envy of all would-be statesman and constitution writers everywhere. Our founding fathers did us proud by providing for us Alaskans - us independent thinkers and doers - a supremely independent selection process in which representatives of both major political parties have to work together.

But the seven people on the Judicial Council don't just agree among themselves as to who should be nominated. No, the beauty of the system is that they cannot decide by themselves but must take the advice of three independent groups of people. These groups are independent from each other. At the same time they are those most involved and knowledgeable in matters of jurisprudence. They are the lawyers, the police, and the employees of the court system. These men and women do the nitty-gritty work of the system, day in and day out, and observe judges in action, day in and day out. They know what kind of intelligence, temperament and balance is needed. It is they, basically, who select our judges, by their careful consideration of the candidates and their written ballot as to who is most qualified.

All of us have seen the results of their input, as the results are contained in the voters handbook put out before a judicial retention election. Each group's opinions are represented on a graph, and those considered most qualified are those at the peak of the graph. It couldn't be more explicit, or more easily understood. From those that these three groups of people consider most qualified, the Judicial Council selects names to forward to the governor. The amount of discretion allowed to the Judicial Council is small. They reserve the rights to have a baseline, as in an auction where the item isn't sold if the bidding doesn't begin at a certain figure. The candidates have to meet a certain absolute standard. If, in a bad year, very few of the candidates can meet these standards, very few names will be forwarded. If a great many candidates get high marks, the council only forwards those at the very top. In the latter instance, there may be many qualified candidates, but only the most qualified candidates are provided to the governor to choose from.

What is it about this system that Gov. Murkowski doesn't understand? What is it about this system that the governor, in his wisdom, would change? Should we select judges from those less qualified? Should we select judges from a list of Republicans? Should we select judges from a list of people who contributed to the governor's election campaign?

If the present system contains bias, it is a bias in favor of those who are truly outstanding. What kind of bias do you think would apply if the governor - any Alaska governor - had the power to appoint judges by himself or herself? Think about it.

Beverly C. Haywood


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