The Alaska Constitution

The Alaska Constitution


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.

Article I: Declaration of Rights

The constitution begins by establishing the basic rights of Alaska’s citizens. Much of Article I essentially reiterates the United States Bill of Rights, but includes several original provisions. Section 3 bans discrimination based on “race, color, creed, sex, or national origin”. Section 7, which largely mirrors the Due Process protections under Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, extends protection to “legislative and executive investigations”, a reaction against McCarthyism. Section 22 establishes the right to privacy; the Alaska Supreme Court has interpreted this to protect, among other things, home possession of small amounts of marijuana Ravin v. State, 537 P.2d 494 (1975). Text .

Article II: The Legislature

Article II establishes a bicameral Alaska Legislature, composed of 20 senators elected for four years and 40 representatives elected for two. Many delegates favored a unicameral legislature; this failed but is reflected in the large number of purposes for which joint sessions are required. The delegates trusted the legislature to act responsibly, so the constitution does not contain the detailed limits on the legislature often found in other states.

Article III: The Executive

Article III vests executive power in a governor elected for four years. The governor and lieutenant governor are elected on a single ticket, and are the only statewide elected officials. Territorial executives were weak, with federal bureaucracy exerting weight from above and elected territorial legislatures limiting the authority of the Presidentially-appointed governor with a variety of special commissions. The delegates desired a strong, streamlined executive, so Article III gives the governor more power than most of his or her counterparts in other states. The governor also has a large amount of patronage; he appoints the heads of all executive departments (most states provide for some to be elected), who are required in general to be people, not multi-member boards.

Article IV: The Judiciary

Article IV creates the Alaska Court System. While in many states judicial authority is fragmented among several levels of jurisdiction with many special courts, the delegates designed the Alaska judiciary to be a single, unified system. The constitution specifies the Alaska Supreme Court, the Alaska Superior Court, and leaves other courts to be “established by the legislature” as needed. Article IV provides for Missouri Plan selection of judges.

Article V: Voting and Elections

Article V’s provisions are mostly standard, setting such things as voting age and election dates. It guarantees both the secret ballot and provides for judicial review of contested election results. A requirement that voters must be able to “read or speak the English language” was removed by amendment in 1970 after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Article VI: Legislative Apportionment

Article VI sets procedures for decennial reapportionment. This is carried out by an appointed board, rather than the legislature as in most states; prior to 1998 amendments, the governor held this authority.

Article VII: Health, Education, and Welfare

Article VII is the shortest in the constitution, mandating a “system of public schools open to all children of the State [...] free from sectarian control”, establishing the University of Alaska as the state university, and directing the legislature to “provide for the promotion and protection of public health” and “provide for public welfare”.

Article VIII: Natural Resources

Article VIII is the first article dealing solely and broadly with resources to appear in a state constitution. The delegates wished to curtail what was seen as abuse of Alaska’s resources (see Ordinance No. 3) and ensure reasonable development to broaden Alaska’s economic base. The chief principle was that resources should be managed as a public trust, providing “for maximum use consistent with the public interest”, further defined as “utilization, development, and conservation… for the maximum benefit of [the] people”; for common access to resources; and for development to be based on sustainable yield. Article VIII also provides for state parks and protected areas, and for the leasing of state lands for resource development.

Article IX: Finance and Taxation

Article IX deals with budgeting, appropriations, tax exemptions, public debt, and bans “earmarking”. Later amendments established the Alaska Permanent Fund and budget reserves.

Article X: Local Government

Article X provides for Alaska’s unique borough system. Local government in the territory was undeveloped, due to its sparse population and the Organic Act of 1912 which banned the creation of counties. The delegates wished to avoid the pitfalls of the traditional county system, such as overlapping jurisdictions and service districts, and tightly constrained local bodies, so they created an entirely new system. The aim, as stated in Section 1, was “to provide for maximum local self-government with a minimum of local government units, and to prevent duplication of tax-levying jurisdictions.” Thus Article X states that the only local government units are cities and boroughs (both organized and unorganized), and only organized boroughs and cities may levy taxes.

Article XI: The Initiative, Referendum, and Recall

Article XI sets out procedures for the use of initiatives to “propose and enact laws”, referendums to “approve and reject acts of the legislature”, and elections to recall public officials. It also restricts the initiative and referendum from being used in certain areas, such as appropriations or to enact special legislation.

Article XII: General Provisions

Article XII is a miscellaneous article, containing definitions of terms, setting the state boundaries, and prescribing the oath of office and merit system, among other things.

Article XIII: Amendment and Revision

Article XIII sets procedures for constitutional amendment. Amendments can originate either with the legislature or at a constitutional convention, and are voted on at the next general election. Constitutional conventions can be called by the Legislature at any time; additionally, every ten years a referendum must be taken on whether to hold a convention. All four such referendums held to date have failed.

Article XIV: Apportionment Schedule

Article XIV set up the initial apportionment of the legislature, to be used prior to the first post-statehood census, and is now obsolete.

Article XV: Schedule of Transitional Measures

Article XV dealt with eventual Alaska statehood, focusing on legal continuity and establishment of the new state government. Since it is no longer a working part of the constitution, Alaska courts have ruled that it can be modified by statute or initiative. This has allowed, for instance, the various initiatives to move the state capital, as Juneau’s capital status is defined in Section 20.

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