Alaska in Brief

Alaska Supreme Court declines definitive decision on law intended to protect college scholarship fund

By: - November 18, 2022 5:59 am

A statue of Charles Bunnell, the first president of the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines, as the University of Alaska Fairbanks was once known, is seen on Sept. 18, 2022, on the UAF campus. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

The Alaska Supreme Court has deferred a decision on the effectiveness of a new law intended to protect the state fund that pays for high school scholarships and Alaska’s equivalent of medical school.

In a Nov. 4 court order, the state’s high court deleted part of a footnote contained within a September court decision. Before the deletion, the footnote unequivocally declared that the new law would protect the Higher Education Investment Fund from being automatically drained by a clause of the Alaska Constitution. 

That happened in 2021 after the Alaska Legislature failed to approve an annual procedural vote that prevents the clause from taking effect. 

Several University of Alaska students sued afterward, saying the Dunleavy administration improperly listed the fund as subject to the constitutional clause. 

The high court ruled in favor of the Dunleavy administration, issuing a brief decision this spring. Soon afterward, Alaska legislators revised the law that created the fund, then restocked it with more than $394 million in oil revenue.

In September, the court released a longer explanation of its decision. Within that decision was a footnote declaring that the new law would protect the fund from being drained.

Attorneys representing the Dunleavy administration objected, saying that the sides in the original lawsuit didn’t discuss the new law, only what was in place beforehand.

They requested a rehearing, which the court granted in part on Nov. 4 with the deletion. 

Former Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth represented the students who brought the original lawsuit.

She noted that the high court deleted less of the footnote than requested by the state, and she believes that precedent set by the students’ lawsuit and another prior case will provide a defense for the new law if someone challenges it in the future.

But as far as a definitive ruling on the new law, “the court avoided the issue altogether,” she said. 

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James Brooks
James Brooks

James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. A graduate of Virginia Tech, he is married to Caitlyn Ellis, owns a house in Juneau and has a small sled dog named Barley. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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