John Havelock, former Alaska attorney general, has died

John E. Havelock, 89, died Aug. 31, 2021. He spent his final days greeting friends and reflecting on his legacy. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

Former Alaska Attorney General John Havelock died Tuesday.

He was 89 and died at home of cancer, his wife, Mona, confirmed.

Havelock played a role in some of Alaska’s most important federal statutes, including the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and the trans-Alaska pipeline bill. He also drafted the language for Alaska’s constitutional amendment recognizing the right to privacy.

One afternoon last month, Havelock reflected on his life and legacy.

“I am a short-timer, you understand,” he said from a hospital bed set up in his Anchorage living room. “Well, I’m happy about it. I’ve had a good, strong life, full of accomplishments, and I don’t need anything else.”

Havelock came to Alaska the year statehood began — 1959 — with a newly-minted Harvard law degree to work in the AG’s office. He served as attorney general under Gov. Bill Egan from 1970 to 1973.

Havelock said he got a first draft of Alaska’s privacy amendment from Sen. Terry Miller, R-Fairbanks. He thought it was too wordy. 

“So I went back to the office and I wrote it the way it is now and went out in the hall, handed it to him,” Havelock recalled. “And that became the Privacy Amendment.”

Section 22 of the Alaska Constitution is just 20 words: “The right of the people to privacy is recognized and shall not be infringed. The legislature shall implement this section.”

It is the backbone of Alaska Supreme Court opinions decriminalizing marijuana and upholding the right to abortion.

When it was written, in 1972, the concern was the government collection of personal data, but Havelock said applying it to abortion is appropriate.

“It is a broad idea. Privacy should apply to that situation,” he said. “A woman’s consultation with her doctor — Jiminy Crickets. There’s a limit to what you can do with that with a judicial proceeding.”

Havelock was a founding partner in the law firm Ely, Guess, Rudd & Havelock. He taught justice and political science at the University of Alaska. A room in the UAA Justice Center will be named for him.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

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