Alaska Supreme Court hears smoking ban case

Posted: Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Alaska Supreme Court heard the appeal of the Juneau Fraternal Order of Eagles chapter case against the City and Borough of Juneau on Friday inside the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium, as part of Supreme Court Live, an event to help foster the understanding of the Justice System.

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Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

The case challenges the constitutionality of a local ordinance that bans smoking in private clubs.

The Supreme Court asked Paul Grant, arguing for the Eagles, to explain why a ban on smoking in the club would interfere with social functions and unfairly restricts its members.

"It's as if they could have dinner together, but then they are forced to eat dessert back home alone," Grant said.

Grant also quoted from Justice Louis Brandeis, explaining the most important constitutional right is the right to be free from governmental interference in our private lives.

Justice Morgan Christen asked John Hartle, arguing for the city, if the government could regulate smoking by hikers on a local public trail.

Hartle answered that if there were sufficient numbers of people using the trail, then the city could prohibit smoking on the trail if the city needed to protect the public health and that a big enough number of people in a public place would justify the government's interference with their private choices, such as the choice to smoke.

Chief Justice Walter Carpeneti said there are health dangers besides smoking, such as diabetes and heart disease, for which the city might also adopt ordinance to protect the public health. Carpeneti wondered how far the city could go in adopting restrictions on what a person consumes or activities that might injure his or her health.

"Where is the limit?" Carpeneti asked.

Hartle cited other cities where smoking is banned.

Justice Craig Stowers remarked, "Sounds like the next step is to outlaw smoking in the home."

The Eagles lost their argument at the trial level.

The court also heard a case from Ketchikan, where a woman is challenging a city ordinance which prohibits signs on rooftops. She has written Biblical messages on her roof, and argues the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects such speech.

There is no timetable for a decision in the cases.

• Contact Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at

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