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Special Message to Congress on Enactments of the Alaska Legislature

December 10, 1923

To the Congress of the United States:

In compliance with the requirements of Section 20 of the act of Congress entitled "An act to create a legislative assembly in the Territory of Alaska, to confer legislative powers thereon, and for other purposes," approved August 24, 1912, I transmit herewith a copy of the session laws, resolutions, and memorials passed at the sixth regular session of the Territorial Legislature of Alaska, convened at Juneau, the capital, on the fifth day of March, 1923, and adjourned sine die the third day of May, 1923.

In this connection, I deem it proper to call the attention of the Congress, for such action as the Congress may see fit to take, to three of these laws in particular, all of which are the subject of more or less criticism on the part of the district judges and the district attorneys of the Territory of Alaska.

First. Chapter 68 provides in substance that women shall be competent to serve on grand and petit juries, and allows them to claim exemption on account of sex. This statute has the effect of amending a law of Congress—Thirtieth Statutes, 1286—which declares that only male inhabitants shall be competent for such service.. The principal objection raised to this law is that it entails delay in jury trials and imposes an unnecessary financial burden on the Government. One of the judges, moreover, has questioned the power of the legislature to enact this law on the ground that it is repugnant to the act of August 24, 1912, supra. Delays in trials arise, I am informed, from the fact that women are allowed under this law two days in which to claim exemption, and that it is. often necessary to suspend all proceedings until the two-day period has expired. Furthermore, I am advised that nearly ninety per cent of the women claim exemption.

Second. Chapter 75 provides that no costs shall be taxed to the defendant in any criminal case in any of the Territorial courts. It is needless to say that the power to impose costs in criminal cases is one of universal recognition, and this law constitutes a radical departure from prevailing custom. Moreover, section 974 of the Revised Statutes, which is applicable to the whole of the United States as well as Alaska, expressly gives the courts the power to impose costs, and the law now in question will, if allowed to stand, operate to repeal that section so far as Alaska is concerned.

Third. Chapter 91 provides machinery for drawing grand and petit jurors from a box containing the names of three-fourths of all qualified residents of the division where the court is held who voted at the last preceding general Territorial election. Some of the district judges and district attorneys dispute the power of the legislature to enact this law consistently with the limitations of the organic act referred to and other legislation of Congress applicable to Alaska. They all agree that it will undoubtedly restrict the work of the courts and are apprehensive that this law, as well as the others just mentioned, will impose on the national Government an unreasonable financial burden, since all of the expenses of administration are payable out of the federal Treasury.

These enactments involve the legislative policy of Congress, and I invite the consideration of the Congress as to whether they should be disapproved.


THE WHITE HOUSE, December 10, 1923.

Calvin Coolidge, Special Message to Congress on Enactments of the Alaska Legislature Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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