Watching Legislators Break Their Oaths: The Tundra Rebellion Redux

Each member of the Alaska Legislature, before serving, swears an oath:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Alaska, and that I will faithfully discharge my duties as legislator to the best of my ability.

– Alaska Constitution, Article XII, §5 (emphasis added)

Every member of the House Republican coalition voted to steal the federal lands – national parks and defense lands excepted – from the federal government. Every member of the House majority coalition voted in support of HB 115, which, according to its title,

An Act relating to the sovereignty of the state and the state’s right to a credit or setoff for amounts or injuries inequitably or unlawfully caused or claimed by the federal government; requiring the United States to lift certain land orders and federal withdrawals; relating to the transfer of public land or interests in public land from the federal government to the state and to the disposal of that land or any interest in land;

There’s a technical problem or two with the State’s claim. The biggest is the Supremacy Clause. That pesky little phrase is the provision in Article SixClause 2 of the United States Constitution that establishes the United States Constitution, federal statutes, and treaties as “the supreme law of the land.” It provides that these are the highest form of law in the United States legal system, and mandates that all state judges must follow federal law when a conflict arises between federal law and either a state constitution or state law of any state. That’s kind of a problem, and part of the reason that former Attorney General Norm Gorsuch declared the Tundra Rebellion Initiative to be unconstitutional and instructed state officials to ignore it. Rather than supporting and defending the U.S. Constitution, the House majority caucus is defying and violating the Constitution.

A second problem comes from the Alaska Statehood Act. It’s a compact; an agreement between the United States and the citizens of Alaska. The Statehood Act, which was ratified and approved by a solid majority of Alaskans, states at Section 4, in part:

As a compact with the United States, said State [Alaska] and its people do hereby declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to any lands or other property not granted or confirm to the State of its political subdivisions by or under the authority of this Act. . .

And then it’s repeated in Section 5:

Except as provided in section 6, hereof, the United States shall retain all title to all property, real and personal, to which it has title, including public lands.

Section 6 gave the State of Alaska 102,550,000 acres – an area about the size of the entire State of California – and, in fact, the U.S. has conveyed all but about 5 million of those acres. Yes, it’s overly slow, but the State of Alaska bears part of the blame for the delays. And a failure to convey less than 5% is no reason to break the statehood compact. WC has examined the Statehood Act with some care and cannot find anywhere a requirement that the federal government use its property – the property in which Alaskans solemnly disclaimed any interest – solely in a way which Alaska approved.

The House majority caucus is like some petulant second grader complaining they didn’t win so they are taking their marbles and going home. As a display of emotional immaturity, it’s pretty embarrassing. As an act of statesmanship, it’s garbage. A buddy of WC’s recently described the Alaska Legislature to WC as a bunch of grade school kids: bullies, show-offs, nerds, clowns and whiners. Pretty clearly, the whiners and bullies are in charge right now.

There’s no escaping the bottom line. The House majority caucus swore to uphold the U.S. Constitution, and they are now on record as attacking a core principle of that Constitution. Their predecessors made a solemn bargain with the federal government, and the House majority caucus is trying to welch on that bargain. This is the same bunch of clowns that have American flag lapel pins and brag about their patriotism.

Remember, too, the Legislature has real issues to occupy it: getting natural gas to Interior Alaska, balancing the budget, dealing with Native subsistence and tribal sovereignty. But no, this bunch of fools is wasting their time on arrant nonsense.

WC has very, very low expectations for the Alaska Legislature, based on some 56 years of observation. But even by those pitiful standards, the current House majority is a crowd of poltroons and oath-breakers.


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