Governor Bill Walker is set to appoint a new judge to the Anchorage Superior Court in the wake of Judge Michael Spaan’s retirement, and gender politics could play a role in the Governor’s decision.
Currently the Anchorage Superior Court has 17 judges, only one of which is female. That on its face would be an argument many could cite for making a female appointment. The need for gender diversity to the court is more relevant now with the only woman on Alaska’s highest court, Supreme Court Justice Dana Fabe, recently announcing she will retire June 1.
Numbers from a 2013 Alaska Judicial Council report show while 38% of the members of the Alaska Bar Association are women, only 32% of judicial nominees are female, and the number drops to 29% for the percentage of women who actually get appointed.
This isn’t a one time phenomenon, either. The report says “A higher percentage of applicants were women, tracking a similar change among the Alaska Bar membership. The same percentages of male and female applicants were nominated, but the percentages of women appointed varied over the years.” In fact, since 1989 for every period listed the percentage of female nominees and appointees have been significantly lower than that of women making up the Alaska Bar.
There is another reason the next appointment may lean towards a woman. The Anchorage Superior Court is where every domestic relations, child custody, child support and serious domestic assault cases in Anchorage are resolved. By their nature these cases tend to be between a man on one side and a woman on the other, and the 16-1 gender imbalance means women who come before the court in those cases are almost guaranteed to find a man presiding over their case. That doesn’t mean the male judges can’t or won’t be fair, but for a state looking to show a commitment to addressing appalling violence against women statistics, making an effort to increasing the number of female judges would be a visible move signalling that the issue is being taken seriously.
Of the 14 applicants for the Anchorage Superior Court vacancy, the Alaska Judicial Council sent Gov. Walker four candidates to choose from, two of them are women. The Governor can now select any of the four.
The nominees are:
Ms. Crosby has been an Alaska resident for 28 years, and has practiced law for almost 20 years. She graduated from Gonzaga University School of Law in 1996, and is currently in private practice in Anchorage.
Ms. Garton has been an Alaska resident for 14 years, and has practiced law for 14 years. She graduated
from Lewis and Clark Law School in 2000, and is currently an assistant public defender in Anchorage.
Mr. Woodman has been an Alaska resident for 15 years, and has practiced law for 21 years. He graduated from The Ohio State University College of Law in 1993, and is currently a senior assistant attorney general and the State Ethics Attorney in Anchorage.
Mr. Fitzgerald has been an Alaska resident for 55 years, and has practiced law for 27 years. He graduated from Willamette University College of Law in 1987, and is currently in private practice in Anchorage.
All four appear to be well qualified candidates. Few could argue if the Governor chooses one of the two men because he felt they were the best candidate. The same, however, is true if he were to select one of the female candidates.
Given the almost total gender imbalance on this court, the lack of women in the state court system in general, and the availability of two well qualified women to choose from, this appointment looks to lean towards one of the female nominees.