ACLU of Alaska Files Suit Against State of Alaska for Unconstitutional Crackdown on Political Speech

Affiliate: ACLU of Alaska
August 24, 2018 10:30 am

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Anchorage, AK — Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska (ACLU), independent expenditure group Dunleavy for Alaska, and Alaska resident Eric Siebels jointly filed suit against the State of Alaska seeking to immediately block enforcement of a state statute barring political signs near roadways and asking for those rules to be struck down as unconstitutional.

Alaska Statute 19.25.105 prohibits “outdoor advertising” on or within 660 feet of state rights-of-way for interstate, primary, and secondary highways within Alaska. This statute effectively prohibits thousands of Alaskans from displaying political speech anywhere on their own property.

Using this statute as justification, on July 10, 2018 the Alaska Department of Transportation (DOT) sent a notice to Dunleavy for Alaska threatening financial and criminal sanctions for posting political signs within the view of certain roadways. According to multiple media reports quoting DOT officials, this was part of a planned “sweep” of signs near roadways. Photo evidence clearly shows this sweep specifically targeted political signs while leaving adjacent non-political signs untouched.

One of those articles includes statements from DOT spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy that of the 200 to 250 political signs tagged for removal in Anchorage as part of this sweep, only “about 50” posed “immediate safety concerns.” This statement makes it clear the overwhelming majority of the removed signs posed little or no risk to the public.

“There is no right more fundamental to a democracy than the right of an individual to express their personal political views,” said ACLU of Alaska Executive Director Joshua A. Decker. “That is why the U.S. Supreme Court has afforded political speech special protection. If the government wants to seize that right by barring Alaskans from displaying political signs on their own property, they need a more compelling reason than ‘because somebody might see it.’”

“We have been blown away by Alaskans’ passionate response to our signs. Everyone seems to want one,” said Dunleavy for Alaska Chairman Terre Gales. “We have taken a lot of pride in designing colorful and attractive signs that Alaskans will enjoy. For the state to step in and say you can’t put up that sign because it says ‘Dunleavy’ but can keep the sign next to it that says ‘Veggies for sale’ just seems arbitrary. It makes you wonder why it is really being done.”

The American Civil Liberties Union is our nation’s guardian of liberty. For nearly 100 years, the ACLU has been at the forefront of virtually every major battle for civil liberties and equal justice in this country. Principled and nonpartisan, the ACLU works in the courts, legislatures, and communities to preserve and expand the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States. The ACLU of Alaska, founded in 1971, is one of the 53 state ACLU affiliates that strive to make the Bill of Rights real for everyone and to uphold the promise of the Constitution—because freedom can’t protect itself.

This release can be found online here.

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