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How Does The Alaska Supreme Court Work?

The Alaska Supreme Court was established in 1959 as the Court of the last resort in the state. The Court regulates the state’s judicial system and precedes over appeals from the lower courts. It also administers the judicial procedures for civil cases and criminal prosecutions in Alaska.

The Supreme Court also exercises discretionary jurisdiction over petitions pending decisions submitted by lower courts and original complaints in matters where relief is not otherwise feasible. Such cases include entrance to bar association and disciplinary procedures.

The Alaska Supreme Court, on its discretion, handles civil appeals from Superior Courts and District Courts. The state’s Supreme Court can also impose injunctions and any other procedure required to exercise its full authority. According to the Alaska legislature, it can also review a final verdict made by the Military Appeals Commission in regards to which a prison sentence is levied.

Sometimes, a case pending before the Supreme Court may be transferred to the court of appeals to avoid delays and backlogs. The Supreme Court may exercise its authority over a case pending in the court of appeals. This happens if the court affirms that the case involves a substantial question of state/federal law, or it concerns an issue of substantial public interest.

By law, an individual is entitled to one appeal to a case initiated at a lower trial court (Section 22.05.010 of the Alaska Statutes.)

The Alaska Supreme Court has the legal power to prescribe the fees to be paid to any court for its judiciary services. All matters regarding maintenance, operation, and usage of all court establishments are also within the jurisdiction of The court. According to Section 22.05.025, this includes renting facilities for any court system-related purposes.

The Supreme Court has five justices that meet twice every week to confer on cases. The Court hears arguments monthly at its primary address in Anchorage and holds regular sessions at secondary locations in Juneau and Fairbanks. The cases could be contended orally or presented through briefs. The Supreme Court’s present its decisions in any of the following ways:

  • Opinions: These are the detailed legal reasons given to support a lower court’s verdict
  • MOJ (Memorandum Opinions & Judgements): These explain the legal thinking that led to the Court’s decision
  • Order: An order is issued either in favor or against an appealed case. It usually comes with brief or no legal explanations.

Judicial vacancies in the Alaska Supreme Court are filled by nomination by the Alaska Judicial Council and appointment by the Governor. Newly appointed justices must contest for retention to maintain their position in the Supreme Court after serving on the bench for a minimum of 3 years.

To be eligible for the position of a Supreme Court justice, a nominee must be:

  • A legal citizen of the United States
  • An inhabitant of the State of Alaska for five years preceding the time of appointment
  • A participant in regular legal practice as a licensed practitioner for no less than eight years before appointment

The position of the Chief Justice is filled in by-elections conducted within judges. The chief justice serves a three-year term and may not hold that office for consecutive terms. Typically, Supreme Court judges in Alaska serve ten-year terms. Re-elections are common. However, a Supreme Court justice in the state may be impeached by a majority vote from the Alaska Senate.

The Alaska Supreme Court justices usually hold proceedings at three locations in the state. These are:

Alaska Supreme Court (Anchorage)
825 West 4th Avenue
Anchorage, AK 99501
Phone: (907) 264–0471

Alaska Supreme Court (Fairbanks)
101 Lacey Street
Fairbanks, AK 99701
Phone: (907) 452–9277
Fax: (907) 452–9330

Alaska Supreme Court (Juneau)
123 4th Street
Juneau, AK 99801
Phone: (907) 463–4700
Fax: (907) 463–3788

Interested parties can obtain public court dockets related to the Alaska Supreme Court through the Alaska Appellate Courts website. Searches can be performed using:

  • The trial or appellate case number
  • Party name
  • Name of the legal designees

The Alaska Supreme Court opinions are documented by the Alaska Reporter and the Official Pacific Reporter. Although most Orders and MOJs do not get published, they are available to the public via in-person visits to the appellate court clerk’s office below:

Clerk of the Appellate Courts
303 K Street
Anchorage, Alaska 99501
Phone: 907–264–0608
Fax: 907–264–0878

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