Posted by Cathy Gowdy on Sunday, March 12, 2006 at 08:34:43 :
San Francisco Chronicle
Thursday, July 5, 2001
Jay Andrew Rabinowitz
by Wolfgang Saxon, New York Times
Justice Jay Andrew Rabinowitz, who as a member of the Alaska Supreme Court helped shape state law and was remembered mainly for pronouncing marijuana legal, died on June 16 at a hospital in Seattle. He was 74 and lived in Juneau and Fairbanks.
The cause was cancer, his family said.
Justice Rabinowitz joined the Alaska court in 1965 when the state was 6 years old and its constitution raw and untested. In his 32 years as a justice, he wrote more than 1,200 opinions, many of which defined the legal structure governing Alaska.
"We were fortunate to have him formulate the fundamental principles of Alaska law, which will remain with us for perhaps the next 100 years," said Charlie Cole, a former state attorney general.
His career in the law bridged Alaska's passage from a frontier territory to statehood. He repeatedly served as chief justice, a rotating position, and retired as a senior justice in 1997 upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.
In 1975, he entered the tangled legal history of marijuana use in the United States with a 54-page landmark decision based on the right-to-privacy section of the Alaska Constitution. The unanimous opinion he wrote in effect legalized marijuana use in the privacy of one's home.
The state courts never reversed or modified that decision, which left it to federal law enforcement agencies to enforce federal laws against marijuana as a banned substance.
But the situation in Alaska remains as convoluted on marijuana use as it is in the rest of the country.
The Alaska Legislature and a popular referendum later passed a ban. Yet, Alaska, like eight other states, permits the use of marijuana as medicine in certain cases. That exception, however, was at least temporarily blocked by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court in May.
Justice Rabinowitz was born in Philadelphia, grew up in the Riverdale section of the Bronx and graduated from Syracuse University in 1949. He received his law degree at Harvard University in 1953 and moved to Fairbanks five years later. There, he worked as a law clerk in federal court and as a federal and state prosecutor before reaching the bench of Alaska Superior Court in 1960.
He is survived by his wife of 44 years, Ann Nesbit Rabinowitz; three daughters, Judith Bonorris of Larkspur, Mara Rabinowitz of Anchorage and Sarah Rabinowitz of Boston; a son, Max, of Albuquerque; a brother, Robert, and sister, Judy Gerard, both of New York; and two grandsons.
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