Opinion: Lack of Diversity in Alaskan Courts A Problem

An opinion piece appearing in the Alaska Dispatch News criticizes the lack of cultural and gender diversity in the state’s judicial system, following the announcement that Justice Dana Fabe, the only woman on the all-white Alaska Supreme Court, is retiring in June.

The article reports that of the 73 judges serving the district to supreme court levels in Alaska, only 5 are of a minority background and only 18 are women. The author spoke with District Court Judge Pamela Washington, one of only two African-American judges of a district court level or higher, who reportedly stressed the importance of judicial diversity and said that it creates confidence in the justice system.

The article goes on to note that the judicial and legal systems seem to have recognized the diversity problem in their court system and are takings steps to fix it. The author points to the appointment choices made by Alaska governors as a potential cause for the lack of opportunity for women in the state:

“According to Judicial Council records covering the last four administrations, the council found qualified women for most judge vacancies, and governors Parnell and Walker appointed women judges about half the time they received qualified female nominees. But Gov. Frank Murkowski did so only 16 percent of the time and Gov. Sarah Palin 25 percent of the time. Out of 35 opportunities, those two governors appointed only seven women.”

The article concludes by noting that the lack of diversity in the judicial system is also present in Anchorage’s education system as well as its executive and legislative branches. “I think it is going to require deliberate action. People can’t just wait and see,” the Dispatch quotes Washington as saying.