On May 18, 2011, President Obama nominated Alaska Supreme Court Justice Morgan Christen to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In announcing her nomination, President Obama described Justice Christen as an “outstanding candidate” for the position.
Justice Christen was born in 1961 in Chehalis, Washington. She received her B.A. in 1983 from the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington, also taking time to study abroad at the American College of Switzerland (Leysin, Switzerland), Richmond College (London, England), and Nanjing University (Nanjing, China). In 1986 she received her J.D. from Golden Gate University School of Law, receiving the school’s American Jurisprudence Awards in Constitutional Law and in Evidence. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Judicial Studies from The National Judicial College. Before joining the bench, Justice Christen worked as an associate (1987-1992) and then a partner (1993-2002) at Preston Gates & Ellis LLP’s Anchorage office. In 2002, then-Governor Tony Knowles appointed her to the Third Judicial District of the Alaska Superior Court, and, in 2005, she became the district’s Presiding Judge. In 2009, then-Governor Sarah Palin appointed her to the Alaska Supreme Court.
Justice Christen has extensive experience both as a lawyer and as a judge. As a lawyer, she maintained a diverse practice in both federal and state court, and served as lead counsel in commercial disputes, an embezzlement action, anti-trust class actions, aviation death cases, and federal Medicaid fraud cases. Approximately 10 percent of her cases were criminal proceedings. Her client base was equally diverse, including the State of Alaska, businesses of various sizes, individuals, and organizations.
As a trial judge, Justice Christen was assigned to over 3,600 cases at disposition and tried at least 19 civil jury trials and 150 civil bench trials. Her wide-ranging civil docket included cases involving contract, tort, real estate, constitutional law, and prison discipline. As the Presiding Judge of Alaska’s Third Judicial District, which handles nearly 70 percent of the trial court cases for the entire state, Justice Christen oversaw approximately 40 judicial officers in thirteen courts.
As an Alaska Supreme Court Justice, Justice Christen hears direct civil appeals from Alaska’s trial courts of general jurisdiction; discretionary criminal appeals from the Alaska Court of Appeals; discretionary appeals of non-final orders from criminal and civil cases; and original cases that cannot be brought in other courts, such as questions of state law for federal courts and attorney discipline. Since joining the bench, Justice Christen has authored approximately 40 opinions.
Professional and Community Activities
Justice Christen has consistently worked to improve both the legal profession and her community. White on the bench, she has spoken at meetings and conferences for the Judicial Observer program and for court appointed special advocates. She has also mentored and taught students by working on the Youth Court, judging high school mock trial competitions, and educating minority youth on legal careers through Color of Justice. Justice Christen has also taken leadership roles in many community organizations. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of both the Rasmuson Foundation and the Alaska Community Foundation, and has previously volunteered for other non-profit organizations, including Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Anchorage. In 2008, she was awarded the Alaska Supreme Court’s Community Outreach Award.