With Alaska’s federal judge vacancy nearing 2-year mark, Sullivan breaks from nomination tradition

    Friday, September 22, 2023 at 9:19 AM

    By James Brooks/Alaska Beacon

    U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, walks down a hallway Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, at the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

    Juneau, Alaska (Alaska Beacon) - Murkowski appears skeptical about the switch, saying she’s prepared to advance nominees to Biden

    Alaska Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan has picked a nine-member panel to help him select nominees for a long-vacant federal judgeship in Alaska, eschewing the traditional process.

    In a written statement, Sullivan said the new Alaska Federal Judiciary Council will help “identify federal judiciary candidates of character, experience, and an unflinching commitment to the rule of law.”

    Alaska’s senior Senator, Republican Lisa Murkowski, said conversations about changing the selection process “should have started a long time ago” and implied that switching processes now could extend the time that Alaska is without a federal judge.

    One of Alaska’s three federal district court seats has been vacant since the retirement of Judge Timothy Burgess at the end of 2021. 

    Federal judges serve lifetime appointments. Formally, they’re nominated by the President and subject to a confirmation vote by the U.S. Senate.

    Under custom and tradition, home-state senators suggest a list of nominees to the president, who selects from that list in order to reduce the chance that the nominee is blocked by one of the state’s senators.

    Alaska’s senators have traditionally relied on advice from the Alaska Bar Association to inform their picks for vacant seats on the judicial bench.

    In March, after a request from Murkowski, the Alaska Bar Association asked interested attorneys to submit their resumes and other information. 

    Fourteen people applied, and the bar polled the state’s other attorneys with a simple question: Is the candidate qualified for the job?

    The four applicants with the highest ratio of the most positive answers were Anchorage Superior Court Judge Yvonne Lamoureux, U.S. Attorney S. Lane Tucker, Stoel Rives partner Tina Grovier, and Alaska Solicitor General Tamara DeLucia

    The Bar Association sent those names to Murkowski and Sullivan in May along with a letter asking the senators to ensure “that the nomination proceeds as expediently as possible.”

    Murkowski, in a written statement released Wednesday, said she’s interviewed the possible candidates since then and is ready to make some decisions.

    “My process is now complete,” Murkowski said in a Wednesday statement. “Alaskans have waited long enough for the district court to operate at full capacity, and I look forward to the vacancy being filled without further delay.”

    Sullivan is taking a different approach. 

    Studies have found a significant and growing correlation between education and political preference: Americans with college degrees are more likely to vote Democratic than Republican, and the tendency is even stronger among Americans with advanced degrees.

    Partially because of that trend, conservatives have grown increasingly skeptical of the role that bar associations — made up of attorneys with advanced degrees — play in nonpartisan judicial selection processes.

    In the Alaska Legislature, Republicans — including Gov. Mike Dunleavy — have repeatedly and unsuccessfully attempted to change the role that the nonpartisan Alaska Judicial Council plays in judicial selection.

    That council consists of three public members, three attorneys selected by the bar, and the state’s chief justice, who votes only to break a tie.

    Sullivan’s new council somewhat resembles the Alaska Judicial Council, except that all nine members were picked by him alone. 

    Among the selectees are several attorneys, including former Gov. Sean Parnell, former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, and Jonathan Katchen, who was nominated for a prior Alaska federal judgeship but later withdrew from consideration.

    The council includes non-attorneys, such as Kim Reitmier, president of the ANCSA Regional Association, and attorneys who are not listed as part of the Alaska Bar, such as Stephen Cox, a contributor to the conservative Federalist Society who works as general counsel and senior vice president for Bristol Bay Industrial.

    Sullivan’s statement did not include a timeline for making his nominations to the president.

    “The gravity of a federal judge’s responsibilities warrants a thorough search for candidates, a serious examination of their records, and the input of those who will be most impacted by their rulings—Alaskans,” he said. “With this inclusive and diverse council, we’ve convened not only some of Alaska’s sharpest legal minds, but also those with detailed knowledge of many critical facets of Alaska, including crime victims, law enforcement, resource development, and Alaska Native communities.”

    The federal judicial appointment process can move slowly. The last time Alaska had a vacancy, it took almost five years before the U.S. Senate confirmed former Department of Interior attorney Josh Kindred.

    Of 72 current vacancies in the federal judiciary, Alaska’s is tied as the 19th-oldest; the oldest dates to 2017. 

    With one seat vacant, more work now falls on Alaska’s roster of five “senior” judges, those who have officially retired from the bench but may hear cases as needed. 

    More from News of the North

    • Jeanne Bitz's story — healing through Hawai'i

      Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - Jeanne Bitz is a painter and sculptor in Maui, Hawai'i.

    • Alaska Athletes Will Push Their Limits in IRONMAN Alaska

      Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - On Sunday one of the hardest athletic events around the world will begin on the shores of Auke Lake in Juneau with a cannon blast that will signify the first official full IRONMAN race in Alaska.

    • Juneau Skating Club Spring Show a Musical Ice Delight

      Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - If you don’t have a ticket to today’s Juneau Skating Club Spring Show at Treadwell Ice Arena then pay at the door or beg to get in as this is a show you will not want to miss!

    • Crimson Bears & Falcons Go Purple to Raise Suicide Awareness & Prevention

      Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé and Thunder Mountain High School basketball teams, coaches, cheerleaders and officials will wear purple during their games tonight and Saturday night at the JDHS gym to raise awareness for mental health, suicide prevention and positive messaging for young adults and community members.

    • Pep Band Spices Up Local Sports

      Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - It takes something special to supplement a high caliber activity without taking away from that activity and that challenge has been met every basketball season by the pep bands of Thunder Mountain High School and Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé.

    • Photos: Perseverance Trail Landslide

      The recent avalanche and landslide activity in the Basin Road and Perseverance Trailhead area is shown in these photos from KINY.

    • Crimson Bears Butt Heads with Moose on Ice

      Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The Juneau-Douglas High School Yadaa.at Kalé Crimson Bears hockey team fell by the score of 4-2 to the Palmer Moose on Monday night at Treadwell Arena in a spirited and physical Railbelt Conference battle around the rink.

    • Juneau's High School Hoopsters and Skaters Can Unmask

      The Juneau School District is allowing their high school basketball and hockey players to play unmasked if certain testing requirements are met. Juneau School District Superintendent Bridget Weiss noted that the change only applies to players who are actively participating in one of the two sports and that coaches and athletes seated on the bench still have to wear face coverings.

    • First Things First Alaska

      The First Things First Alaska Foundation wrote in May 2020 that "the Alaska Roadless Rule hinders Southeast Alaska's economic recovery.

    • Angoon Woman Walks Her Way to a Healthier Life

      Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - Angoon’s Betty Samato likes to walk. A lot. She has traveled on foot more than 7,000 miles in just over a year and much more since the coronavirus pandemic first began spreading through her home community.

    • Frawley Finish Anchors Crimson Bears Relay Title

      Anchorage, Alaska (KINY) - In the final leg of his final race as a high school senior, in the last event of the 2021 State Swimming & Diving Championship at Bartlett High School, Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kalé senior Tytan Frawley touched the pool wall to clinch the state championship for the Crimson Bears boys' 400 yard relay. A few lanes down, Kodiak’s Jackson Krug also stretched to the finish with the identical time.

    • Seward’s Jacoby, Thunder Mountain’s Foy Top Swimmers at State Meet

      Anchorage, Alaska (KINY) - Seward senior Lydia Jacoby and Thunder Mountain High School sophomore Patrick Foy were named the outstanding female and male swimmers at Saturday’s 2021 State Swimming & Diving Championship at Bartlett High School.

    Crude Oil Price

    Current Conditions