Katie John appeal pitfalls

Posted: Monday, June 18, 2001

The following editorial was published by Alaska Newspapers Inc. on June 14:

If Gov. Tony Knowles tries to appeal the Katie John case, he will gain nothing except bitterness between the state and the Alaska Native community.

Sadly, Sen. Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell, is pressuring Knowles to appeal the ruling, which led to a federal takeover of subsistence fishing in most Alaska waters.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Taylor pre-empted a scheduled hearing on the urgently needed cruise ship bill so the committee could discuss the case. He wondered aloud whether Knowles, if he doesn't appeal, could be impeached for violating his oath to uphold state laws.

Taylor's threat will never be more than that. Yes, the state Supreme Court has ruled that the state has jurisdiction over navigable waters. And Knowles has said the state will take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary to defend Alaska's sovereignty.

But he spoke too soon. The oath of office says nothing about lost causes.

The nation's highest court received more than 8,000 petitions in its last term, but only reviewed 76 of them. Moreover, U.S. courts have already overturned the state's argument three times.

In the latest ruling this year, several judges in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the case should not have even been heard because no new arguments were raised. The Supreme Court will surely recognize that enough is enough.

Alaska Natives deserve a rural subsistence priority, even if it means lost tourism dollars from sportfishing and hunting. Subsistence is a right they have earned over thousands of years, and the sinew that binds the Alaska Native culture.

If anybody has been derelict in duty, it has been Sen. Taylor and the rest of the Legislature, who have refused to work toward a constitutional amendment for a rural subsistence priority.

If Knowles makes a vain attempt to appeal, he will erode the promise of improved state-tribal relations achieved by the recently signed Millennium Agreement. He will deplete an already meager state budget. And the state will get nothing in return.

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