Alaska Supreme Court upholds ruling in Recall Dunleavy case, allowing effort to continue

Recall Dunleavy campaign co-chair Vic Fischer poses with the recall application at the Anchorage Division of Elections office on Sept. 5, 2019. (Photo by Matt Buxton/TMS)

The Alaska Supreme Court today issued an order upholding the Superior Court ruling that found all but one of the claims against Gov. Mike Dunleavy met the state’s legal and constitutional standards for recalling a public official.

The ruling allows the Recall Dunleavy campaign, a bipartisan effort fueled largely by the governor’s vetoes issued last summer, to continue to gather the signatures necessary to call a special election. The Alaska Supreme Court permitted the group to begin gathering signatures in late February while the appeal was pending.

The group needs to collect 71,252 signatures from Alaska voters to call a special election. The campaign reported gathering more than 21,000 signatures in the first two weeks of that effort and has since moved to a by-mail petition system amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dunleavy faces claims that he broke the law by refusing to appoint a judge by the 45-day deadline set in state law, that he illegally used state resources for advertising attacking his political opponents, that a veto of the court system based on an abortion ruling he disagreed with violated the separation of powers and that he mistakenly vetoed some Medicaid funds.

Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth tossed the group’s claim that the governor’s vetoes infringed on the Legislature’s constitutional duties to provide for health, education and welfare in his Jan. 10 ruling.

In oral arguments in late March, the Alaska Supreme Court largely focused Dunleavy’s refusal to appoint a judge by the 45-day limit. The state attorney challenging the effort asked why that would rise to the level of recall if there wasn’t clear damage shown.

“Perhaps because the governor is charged with applying the laws faithfully,” replied Justice Craig Stowers.

The only issue that the justices seemed generally skeptical about was the claim the governor violated the separation of powers with his veto of the court system. Several justices said the claims were nebulous and the court ultimately requested supplemental briefings on the issue.

Today’s ruling ultimately upholds the entirety Aarseth’s ruling, including the upholding the claim stemming from the court veto. It’s a significant victory because it ultimately avoids any potential legal issues about the signatures that were gathered on the already-issued petitions that include that claim.

The state had argued that the already-gathered signatures could be thrown into question if the Alaska Supreme Court pared down the claims approved by Judge Aarseth.

The ruling, though, wasn’t entirely unanimous.

Justice Craig Stowers issued a dissent in part, noting that he objected to the claims relating to the separation of powers and the mistaken veto.

Full ruling is expected at a later date.

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