Installation of Alaska Supreme Court Justice Susan Carney

Alaska Court of Appeals Judge Marjorie Allard, right, hands newly installed Alaska Supreme Court Justice Susan M. Carney a jabot, something judges and justices can wear around their necks when they are in their robes, during Carney's installation ceremony at the Rabinowitz Courthouse on Friday, August 26, 2016.

As the November general election edges closer, a heated debate over the ruling record of an Alaska Supreme Court justice from Fairbanks has come to the forefront of state’s political stage.

Alaskans for Judicial Reform, a coalition of conservative, religious and anti-abortion groups, launched a campaign earlier this month calling on state voters to boot Justice Susan Carney, who will be on the ballot for retention next month. 

Carney was appointed by former Gov. Bill Walker in 2016. Periodically justices and judges appear on general election ballots to allow voters the opportunity to vote to retain or remove them. A simple majority is needed to retain or remove judges.

The conservative coalition group takes issue with Carney’s voting record on three specific issues. 

One such ruling involved an opinion Carney wrote in 2019 invalidating an Alaska law that limited abortions covered by the state-federal Medicaid program to those deemed to be “medically necessary.”

Another was a unanimous decision Carney joined three years ago that stated Walker had the authority to veto a portion of the yearly Alaska Permanent Fund dividend. 

The third involved a ruling in which Carney sided with a majority of the five-person court in finding that a man who was convicted of a sex offense outside the state of Alaska should be allowed to request a judicial exception from the state’s sexual offender registry if he could prove he is no longer a vdanger. 

The conservative coalition accuses Carney of partisan political ruling by “protecting sex offenders, not Alaskans,” “forcing taxpayers to provide ‘free’ abortions” and “taking away our PFD.”

The group presents the November election as an opportunity for voters to “push back against a liberal, activist court.”

Since the conservative group launched a campaign calling for Alaskans to vote against Carney, another campaign supporting her has appeared. 

Vote Yes to Retain Justice Carney is a campaign urging voters to retain the justice, citing her experience and high performance ratings. 

“The role of the Alaska Supreme Court, and all the justices who serve on that court, is to protect Alaskans by ensuring that laws comply with all of the powers and freedoms outlined in the Alaska Constitution. Recently, a campaign against Alaska Supreme Court Justice Susan Carney has sprung up, arguing that it is somehow improper for the Alaska Supreme Court to pass judgment on laws that were enacted by the legislature,” the campaign website reads. “But that is precisely the role of our judicial branch of government. The laws passed by our legislature must not violate the Alaska Constitution.  This is how the checks and balances of our government are meant to work.”

The Vote Yes campaign is identified as being paid for largely by Carney herself. ​Judges and justices are not allowed to campaign unless there is an active campaign against them. 

Judicial candidates are vetted and approved by the Alaska Judicial Council, a nonpartisan state commission. The Council recommends that residents vote to retain Carney, basing that recommendation on her average rating of 4.6 on a 5-point rating scale of judicial performance voted on by more than 250 Alaska attorneys and 40 court system employees. 

The council, created by the framers of Alaska’s Constitution, is made up of three attorneys selected by the Alaska Bar Association, three members of the public chosen by the governor and the Supreme Court’s chief justice.  

Article IV Section 6 of the Alaska Constitution specifies when a retention vote must occur:

“Each supreme court justice and superior court judge shall, in the manner provided by law, be subject to approval or rejection on a nonpartisan ballot at the first general election held more than three years after his appointment. Thereafter, each supreme court justice shall be subject to approval or rejection in a like manner every tenth year, and each superior court judge, every sixth year.”

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.