Alaska's Unique Constitution

The preamble to Alaska’s constitution states:

We the people of Alaska, grateful to God and to those who founded our nation and pioneered this great land, in order to secure and transmit to succeeding generations our heritage of political, civil, and religious liberty within the Union of States, do ordain and establish this constitution for the State of Alaska.

The constitution so ordained, with its emphasis on political, civil and religious liberty, is much more than an echo of its federal counterpart.  Just as Alaskans themselves are unique in their experiences and perspectives, so too is Alaska’s constitution unique in the protections it affords its citizens.

Alaska’s tradition of constitutional independence is rooted in Americans’ historic understanding of the importance of the states as sovereign bodies.  As Justice Brandeis noted, “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”  New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, 285 U.S. 262, 311 (1932) (dissenting). 

The Alaska judiciary has held firm to this principle. The courts recognize a special responsibility “to depart whenever necessary from constitutional interpretations enunciated by the United States Supreme Court and to develop rights and privileges under the Alaska Constitution in accordance with our own unique legal background.”  Scott v. State, 519 P.2d 774, 783 (Alaska 1974) Thus, in cases like Ravin v. State, protecting personal marijuana use under Alaska’s privacy clause, and Alaska Civil Liberties Union v. State, requiring equal employment benefits for same-sex partners of state employees, Alaska’s constitution has emerged as an important and independent source of individual liberties.  “Although the federal constitution sets the minimum protections afforded to individual liberty and privacy interests, the Alaska Constitution often provides more protection.” Myers v. Alaska Psychiatric Inst., 138 P.3d 238, 245 (Alaska 2006).