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60 Years Later: The Alaska Constitution, History in Context

60 Years Later: The Alaska Constitution, History in Context — Symposium AgendaIn anticipation of the sixtieth anniversary of Alaska statehood, "60 Years Later: The Alaska Constitution, History in Context" was presented Friday, October 12, 2018 at the UAA/APU Consortium Library. The Constitution of the State of Alaska was adopted by the Alaska Constitutional Convention February 5, 1956; ratified by the people of Alaska April 24, 1956; and became operative with the formal proclamation of Alaska statehood on January 3, 1959.

This free symposium on the history of Alaska's constitution was co-sponsored by the UAA Justice Center and the Alaska Law Review in cooperation with the Historians Committee of the Alaska Bar Association.

Short link to this page: https://goo.gl/yzn9GB

Coordinator: Prof. Ryan Fortson, J.D., Ph.D., of the UAA Justice Center
CLE Credits: The Alaska Bar Association approved this symposium for  4.5 CLE credits (including 1.5 Ethics credits).

Symposium materials

Videos and complete symposium materials can be found below. For additional photos from the symposium, see our blog post about the event.

The Alaska Law Review will be publishing an issue at a later date with articles prepared for this symposium, which will be linked from this page. The Alaska Law Review is published by Duke University School of Law for the Alaska Bar Association.

See previous Alaska Law Review symposia:

Symposium agenda & speaker biographies

Presenters

Keynote speaker

Erwin Chemerinsky

Erwin Chemerinsky
Dean, Berkeley Law

Presenters and panelists

  • Ryan Forston, UAA Justice Center
  • Tom Metzloff, Duke University
  • G. Alan Tarr, Rutgers University; Center for State Constitution Studies
    Robert F. Williams, Rutgers School of Law; Center for State Constitution Studies
  • Hon. Larry D. Card, Alaska Superior Court (ret.)
  • Susie Mason Dosik, Administrative Attorney, Alaska Judicial Council
  • Brett Frazer, Latham & Watkins
  • Willie Hensley, University of Alaska Anchorage
  • John “Sky” Starkey, Landye Bennett Blumstein LLP
  • Andy Erickson, Landye Bennett Blumstein LLP
  • Mike Schwaiger, Alaska Bar Association, Historians Committee
  • Hon. Sen Tan, Alaska Superior Court (ret.)
  • Vic Fischer, Delegate to the Alaska Constitutional Convention

Videos and symposium materials

Symposium materials are available here as downloadable PDF files listed with the corresponding video. 

The complete series of videos are also available as a playlist at the UAA Justice Center YouTube channel.
Videos in the series were produced and edited by Eric Baldwin, UAA Academic Innovations and eLearning.

Click the header for the video you'd like to see.

  • 1. Symposium Introduction and Keynote: Erwin Chemerinsky (44:40 mins.)
    Keynote speaker: Introduced by:
    Erwin Chemerinsky Ryan Fortson
    Erwin Chemerinsky
    Dean, Berkeley Law
    Ryan Fortson
    UAA Justice Center

    Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of Berkeley Law, was keynote speaker for “60 Years Later: The Alaska Constitution, History in Context.” With the changes in the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court, civil rights litigants increasingly will be turning to state constitutional law. Alaska has been a leader in developing a robust use of state constitutional law to protect rights and liberties. How has it done this? What are the lessons for the rest of the country?

    Prof. Chemerinsky was introduced by Prof. Ryan Fortson of the UAA Justice Center, who opened the symposium.

  • 2. A Comparative Perspective of the Alaska Constitution (49:46 mins)
    Moderator: Presenters:  
    Tom Metzloff G. Alan Tarr Robert F. Williams
    Tom Metzloff
    Duke University

    G. Alan Tarr
    Rutgers University; Center for State Constitution Studies

    Robert F. Williams
    Rutgers School of Law; Center for State Constitution Studies

    This presentation seeks to clarify what is distinctive about the Alaska Constitution by placing it in comparative perspective.  This begins with a review of the characteristics of state constitutions themselves, in contrast to the more familiar United States Constitution. Next, an introduction to the New Judicial Federalism, whereby state high courts may interpret, or at least consider interpreting, their own state constitutions to provide more protective rights than those under the US Constitution. This is one of the most important developments in state constitutional law, and Alaska is part of it.  Finally, the presentation evaluates selected Alaska constitutional provisions and doctrines in the larger context of American state constitutional law.

    Articles (draft)

    These are draft articles as presented to attendees at the symposium. These drafts will be replaced by links to the published articles in the Alaska Law Review upon publication.

     "Of Time, Place, and the Alaska Constitution" by G. Alan Tarr. Symposium draft: Not for attribution .

    This article clarifies what is distinctive about the Alaska Constitution and about Alaska’s constitutional experience by placing it in a national context. First, it describes the political circumstances in which the Alaska Constitution was framed. Next, it examines how time and place influenced the substance and development of the Alaska Constitution, focusing on its character as a first constitution, a western constitution, and a mid-twentieth century constitution. It then considers Alaska’s constitutional experience in comparison with Hawaii’s. Finally, it concludes with reflections on the past and future of the Alaska Constitution.

    "Foreword: Alaska, the Last Statehood Constitution, and Subnational Rights and Governance" by Robert F. Williams. Symposium draft: Not for attribution.

    This foreword will focus on the general characteristics of American state, or subnational constitutions, locating Alaska’s constitution within that constitutional tradition as contrasted with our federal constitutional tradition. This will include reference to the “New Judicial Federalism,” the phenomenon of state courts interpreting their state constitutions to provide more protective rights than those recognized by the United States Supreme Court under the federal constitution. Then, a number of characteristics of the Alaska Constitution itself, as well as judicial interpretations of it, will be discussed in national context.

  • 3. The Alaska Judicial Council and Merit Selection of Judges (43:46 mins)
    Moderator: Presenters:  
    Larry D. Card Susie Mason Dosik Brett Frazer
    Hon. Larry D. Card
    Alaska Supeior Court (ret.)

    Susie Mason Dosik
    Administrative Attorney, Alaska Judicial Council

    Brett Frazer
    Latham & Watkins

    The Alaska Judicial Council, created in Article IV, Section 8 of the Alaska Constitution, carries out the duties of the merit selection system created by the Constitution. In this presentation, Susie Mason Dosik details an article by herself and Teresa W. Carns describing how the Council developed its procedures from statehood forward, and what they are at the present. Drawing on Council meeting minutes, files, and reports starting with the Council’s first meeting on May 18 and 19, 1959 in Juneau, the article covers all aspects of applying to be considered for judicial positions: the application, investigations, bar surveys, standards for nomination to the governor, interviews, voting, and transmission of results to the governor. The article includes a brief discussion of Council actions to continue to improve the process, and to increase public and bar participation in selection and retention matters, as envisioned at the Constitutional Convention.

    The judicial selection and retention provisions of the Alaska Constitution, found in Article IV, achieve a delicate and remarkably successful balance between two competing interests—judicial independence and popular sovereignty. Brett Frazer presents a second article, coauthored with Walter Carpeneti, which describes this constitutional plan, (called “merit selection” because it begins with nomination based on merit alone, as determined by a panel comprised of members of the state bar and the general public), explains why the founders of the Alaska Constitution adopted it, examines historical challenges to it, and assesses its performance on the 60th anniversary of Alaska statehood. The authors ultimately conclude that Alaska's merit selection system has performed well, insulating judges from the worst of politics while still allowing some democratic controls on the composition of the judiciary.

    Articles (draft)

    These are draft articles as presented to attendees at the symposium. These drafts will be replaced by links to the published articles in the Alaska Law Review upon publication.

    "The Alaska Judicial Council and Merit Selection of Judges" by Susie Mason Dosik and Teresa W. Carns.Symposium draft: Not for attribution.

    The Alaska Judicial Council, created in Article IV, Section 8 of the Alaska's Constitution, carries out the duties of the merit selection system of judged created by the Constitution. This article examines Alaska’s merit selection system by reviewing the nuts and bolts of its selection procedures as outlined in Alaska Judicial Council records. We first consider the key procedures: the “most qualified” standard, recruitment, the application, the judicial qualification poll, the applicant interviews, public input, Council voting, and transmittal to the governor. We then trace both the origins and the development of those procedures, review current practices, and contemplate some possible improvements to them. Lastly, we discuss evidence that the procedures have worked to identify the best possible judges for Alaskans.

    "Merit Selection of Judges in Alaska: The Judicial Council, the Independence of the Judiciary, and the Popular Will" by Brett Frazer and Walter Carpeneti. Symposium draft: Not for attribution.

    The judicial selection and retention provisions of the Alaska Constitution, found in Article IV, achieve a delicate and remarkably successful balance between competing interests. The purpose of this brief article is to describe this constitutional plan, (called “merit selection” because it begins with nomination based on merit alone, as determined by a panel comprised of members of the state bar and the general public), explain why the founders adopted it, examine historical challenges to it, and assess its performance on the 60th anniversary of Alaska statehood.

  • 4. A Native Perspective of Alaska’s Constitution (48:58 mins)
    Presenters:    
    Willie Hensley John “Sky” Starkey Andy Erickson
    Willie Hensley
    University of Alaska Anchorage

    John “Sky” Starkey
    Landye Bennett Blumstein LLP

    Andy Erickson
     Landye Bennett Blumstein LLP

    Due to the unique history of the territory and State of Alaska, and the social, political and legislative treatment of its indigenous inhabitants, Alaska's Constitution has an extraordinary impact on the legal rights of Alaska Natives. Willie "Iggiagruk” Hensley was a young Inupiaq man living in remote rural Alaska at the time of the constitutional convention. He presents the perspective of Alaska Natives in the drafting and ratification of the Alaska Constitution. Willie served in the Alaska Legislature, was a leader in the settlement of Alaska Native aboriginal land claims and has had many other experiences which have given him a close look at how the constitution impacts the rights and lives of Alaska Natives.

    John M. “Sky" Starkey follows Willie’s presentation with some thoughts and legal analysis on how Alaskan courts can incorporate consideration of the near exclusion of Alaska Native representatives and perspectives in the drafting of the constitution when they consider constitutional issues with significant impact on Alaska Natives. He concentrates on the natural resource provisions of Article VIII of the constitution and issues related to Alaska Native hunting and fishing.

    Andy Erickson discusses how to make the argument to the Alaska courts to bring back traditional and cultural history and context to the interpretation of Article 8 of the Alaska Constitution ("Natural Resources").

  • 5. Lunch Presentation: Thomas Stewart (10:33 mins)
    Presenter:  
    Mike Schwaiger Mike Schwaiger
    Alaska Bar Association, Historians Committee

    In this presentation, Mike Schwaiger presents unpublished materials written by the late Honorable Thomas B. Stewart about the movement for Alaska Statehood and the development of the Alaska Constitution.

    Article (draft)

    This is a draft article as presented to attendees at the symposium. This draft will be replaced by a link to the published article in the Alaska Law Review upon publication

    "Recollections on the Writing of the Alaska State Constitution" by Thomas B. Stewart. Symposium draft: Not for attribution.

    Thomas B. Stewart (1919–2007) served in the Alaska territorial and state legislatures, administered the Alaska Court System, and served 15 years as a Superior Court judge in Juneau. From November 1955 to February 1956 he served as Secretary of the Alaska Constitutional Convention. This article presents his account of the writing of the Alaska Constitution, included in a letter to the Alaska Law Review in 1992 and previously unpublished.

  • 6. Lunch Conversation: Vic Fischer and Sen Tan (41:19 mins)
    Presenters:  
    Vic Fischer Sen K. Tan

    Vic Fischer
    Delegate to the Alaska Constitutional Convention, 1955–1956

    Hon. Sen K. Tan
    Alaska Superior Court (ret.)

    Retired Judge Sen K. Tan and  Alaska Constitutional Convention delegate Vic Fisher held a lunchtime conversation about Mr. Fischer's recollections of the Constitutional Convention; about the Alaska Judicial Council, judicial selection, and the independent judiciary; about educating Alaskans about their constitution; amending the constitution; and the question of holding a new constitutional convention.

    Vic Fischer was one of 55 delegates to the Alaska Constitutional Convention in the winter of 1955–1956, and was strongly involved in planning for the 2009 celebration of 50 years of Alaska statehood. Fischer was the first director of the University of Alaska’s Institute of Social and Economic Research, and has studied and taken part in Alaska government and politics for over 50 years.  In 1974, he authored “Alaska's Constitutional Convention” (University of Alaska Press). Sen K. Tan served as a judge on the Anchorage Superior Court from to 2014, and was the presiding superior court judge for the Third Judicial District from 2011 to 2013.


Erwin Chereminksy, Dean, Berkeley Law delivers the keynote address at the Alaska Law Symposium "60 Years Later: The Alaska Constitution, History in Context," 12 Oct 2018.

Erwin Chereminksy, Dean, Berkeley Law delivers the keynote address at the Alaska Law Symposium "60 Years Later: The Alaska Constitution, History in Context," 12 Oct 2018.

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