Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Exceptional Alaska: Sturgeon v. Frost

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Alaska is exceptional. “All those Alaska-specific provisions reflect the simple truth that Alaska is often the exception, not the rule.” Sturgeon v. Frost, No. 14–1209, slip op. at 14 (U.S. Mar. 22, 2016).

Chief Justice Roberts's decision had two aspects I wish to highlight:

First, I want to highlight the Chief Justice's legal history of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which a thorough search leads me to conclude is the first of its kind. This will be the go-to judicial opinion for Alaska history buffs. It covers the U.S.'s acquisition of Alaska, Alaska statehood, and the "Great Denali-McKinley Trespass." Details of the trespass, which brought to mind the recent Bundy protests, are too good not to include:
President Carter’s actions were unpopular among many Alaskans, who were concerned that the new monuments would be subject to restrictive federal regulations. Protesters demonstrated in Fairbanks, and more than 2,500 Alaskans participated in the “Great Denali-McKinley Trespass.” The goal of the trespass was to break over 25 Park Service rules in a two-day period—including by camping, hunting, snowmobiling, setting campfires, shooting guns, and unleashing dogs. During the event, a “rider on horseback, acting the part of Paul Revere, galloped through the crowd yelling, ‘The Feds are coming! The Feds are coming!’” N. Y. Times, Jan. 15, 1979, p. A8; Anchorage Daily News, Jan. 15, 1979, pp. 1–2. 
Sturgeon v. Frost, No. 14–1209, slip op. at 4 (U.S. Mar. 22, 2016).
Second, I want to highlight a citation to case law made by the Chief Justice. The Chief Justice only relied on one case to arrive at his holding. (He made reference to two other cases in describing the parties' arguments.) Here is the citation:
Statutory language “cannot be construed in a vacuum. It is a fundamental canon of statutory construction that the words of a statute must be read in their context and with a view to their place in the overall statutory scheme.” Roberts v. Sea-Land Services, Inc., 566 U. S. ___, ___ (2012) (slip op., at 6) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Sturgeon v. Frost, No. 14–1209, slip op. at 13 (U.S. Mar. 22, 2016).
I thought this was an interesting case to cite because it also involves an injury occurring at an Alaska marine terminal. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but he could have cited any number of cases for the same language. By citing to so few cases and relying on a case that occurred in Alaska, the Chief Justice nicely reinforces the opinion's theme of Alaskan exceptionalism.

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