Alaska Superior Court Judge Herman Walker today ruled in favor of the plaintiff, which in this case is all political candidates in Alaska.
Judge Walker ruled that the State must stop harassing candidates who have campaign signs on private property. The Court granted more relief than the Walker Administration was willing to concede by ordering that the Department of Transportation stop discriminating against political speech and stop threatening fines and prosecution.
“The State of Alaska and [DOT] are ordered to treat unauthorized commercial signs and political campaign signs equally,” Judge Walker ruled. “In particular, the State of Alaska and the Department shall cease threatening the public with fines or fees for displaying small, temporary, campaign signs on private property outside the state’s right-of-ways.”
The case was brought by a group supporting the candidacy of Mike Dunleavy for governor, and was joined by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Although it is a partial ruling, it appears the judge recognizes that the State was targeting the political speech of the governor’s opponents with threats of fines and prosecution. The ruling applies to signs on private property, but the judge still needs to rule on signs that are on private property along highways where the state has rights of way.
The trouble started in July, when Gov. Walker’s campaign purchased nearly all the public bus “wraps” available in Anchorage, and then took down the Walker signs from rights-of-way. Immediately. the State Department of Transportation issued a warning that it would flag and remove signs that were in violation of a state law that has never before been enforced.
Dunleavy for Alaska was clearly “winning” the sign war by mid-summer, and had invested heavily in attractive graphics that have become iconic signs for the group, which has had a hard time keeping up with request for them. The signs are so popular that they have become collectors’ items.
Dunleavy for Alaska asked the ACLU to sue the state.
Last week, the judge indicated he would rule quickly on at least some of the complaint. He did so today. The judge’s partial ruling can be found at this link:
In addition to a restraining order on the State, the judge ordered the Department of Transportation to inform all candidates of the ruling, update the Alaska DOT website with information reflecting the order, and issue a press release that explains the updated guidance for political signs within and outside of the State’s rights-of-way.
A separate order that deals with political signs in the State rights-of-way will be issued later, he said.