Alaska has two types of appellate courts, the Court of Appeals established in 1980 and the Supreme Court which was created with the Alaska Constitution.
Unlike many states, the Court of Appeals in Alaska is limited to “cases involving criminal prosecution, post-conviction relief, juvenile delinquency, extradition, habeas corpus, probation and parole, bail, and sentencing matters.” The Court of Appeals hears cases using a three-judge panel. The Supreme Court Chief Justice appoints a Chief Judge to the Court of Appeals for a two-year term.
Alaska has an Appellate Clerk’s Office in Anchorage that supports the appellate courts. The clerks keep the court calendars, file documents, publish opinions, monitor caseloads and make recommendations for improvements in procedure and case processing.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the state and handles appeals for all the lower courts in Alaska while also administering the state’s judicial system. This court has five justices, who vote to select one of them to be Chief Justice for a three-year term.
Part of the process of an appeal in the Supreme Court is to hear oral arguments for cases being reviewed. The Alaska Supreme Court hears these arguments monthly in Anchorage, then again, every quarter in Fairbanks and Juneau and occasionally in other communities. They prefer to hear oral arguments in the same district where the case was initially heard.
Due to the expansive nature of the court system in Alaska, the Supreme Court hears far more appeals than other Supreme Courts in other states. Usually, the Court of Appeal will field most of the initial appeals and then only if a review is needed, is it passed up to the Supreme Court. In Alaska, most of the cases are immediately passed to the Supreme Court.