Idaho AG: Pieces of Idaho history are missing

Posted at 10:19 AM, Jan 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-26 12:19:39-05

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden is making 125 years-worth of legal opinions, guidelines, letters and annual reports available to the public.

Since 1891, as required by statute, the Attorney General has published a collection of opinions, advisory letters, lists of cases submitted to state and federal courts and summaries of the year’s business.

In the past, these reports were housed in the office of the Attorney General, law libraries or the Idaho Historical Society. But as of today, the collection can be found on the Attorney General’s website.

There is one caveat, however.

The collection is incomplete -- and Attorney General Wasden is seeking the public’s help to account for five missing volumes.

“Making these reports readily available fits with my goals of making government accessible and transparent,” Wasden said.

“While I understand this may not be must-read material for everyone, I encourage anyone with an interest in public policy, legal history and government to take a look,” he added. “The collection provides a unique glimpse into our state’s history, the legal questions that shaped our state and serves as a reminder that the philosophical questions we debate today are not all that different from those of the past.”

The collection begins with the report covering 1891-92, when George H. Roberts served as Idaho’s first attorney general, and stretches to the first opinion of 2016.

The missing volumes are scattered across the decades and include: the biennial report for 1895-96; the annual report for 1953; the period covering January through June 1954; the period for July through December 1973; and the 1974 report.

“We searched my office, the historical society, the state law library and even former Attorneys General for these missing publications,” Wasden said. “It’s unfortunate the set is incomplete, but I’m hoping with public help we can recover these missing volumes.”

The Attorney General is charged with defending Idaho’s laws and providing legal representation to state government and the Legislature. Those duties have put each of Idaho’s 32 Attorneys Generals in position to opine on matters big and small.

For example, the report from 2010, an election year, includes a series of opinions on the constitutionality of more than a dozen proposed ballot initiatives, covering questions about state sovereignty and firearms to vaccinations and property rights.

The collection tracks changes and clarification in Idaho’s public policy, such as when former Attorney General Frank Langley determined in 1946 that the Governor has the power to name a Lieutenant Governor without ratification of the Senate.

Others provide snapshots into legal dilemmas that seem less vexing by modern standards. Former Attorney General Frank L. Stephan and his staff concluded in 1927 that it was legal to operate a skating rink on Sundays. In the 1939-40 report, then-Attorney General J.W. Taylor determined that any city ordinance setting a fixed, minimum price for barber services is unconstitutional.

“I’m pleased to make this collection available and that the public has the opportunity to better understand their government and the development of Idaho’s laws,” Wasden said.

The collection can be viewed at: