The Alaska Settlement Act of 1940

The Alaska Settlement Act of 1940

Okay, no sucha thing, as my five-year-old boy would say. It’s part of the marvelous counter-historical backdrop to Michael Chabon’s new novel, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. The premise is that several million Jews were extended “Ickes passports” early in the war (thus reducing the toll of the Holocaust by two-thirds), a population thereafter swollen by the defeat of a three-month old Israel in 1948. Yiddish is the common language in the Sitka district, as it is known. (The plan was actually considered, as described in this NPR report. In reality, there are about 6000 Jews in the state.)



The novel itself is a mystery thriller; its inventiveness is worn lightly (it’s only an off-hand clause that gives us the Holocaust number; another, the fact that Berlin was A-bombed in 1946), at the same time that it makes for some easy comedy (the interaction of Alaskan Jews and the Tlingit Indians, for example). The jurisdiction is about the “revert” to Alaska and the US proper, at which point any residents without green cards (for which few will be eligible) will have to identify other options.



Now I don’t usually like to mix business and pleasure, but the premise did have me thinking through some of the law here and its plausibility. Would the arrangement be constitutional? If this district counted as an incorporated territory, the Constitution would apply with full force, no? I think it would also be the case that anyone born there would have constitutional birthright citizenship, although I’m not sure about that (and I’m not sure the issue was ever broached, insofar as section 304 of the Nationality Act extended citizenship to persons born in Alaska after its acquisition in 1867). Could residents be expelled after a “reversion”? I doubt that would fly under as a matter international human rights, these days. But novelists, fortunately, aren’t held to academic standards in their flights of imagination.

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