The Wasilla voter who brought the lawsuit challenging Rep. David Eastman’s eligibility to hold office because of his membership in the Oath Keepers announced this morning he will not be appealing a decision that went in Eastman’s favor.
In December, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Jack McKenna found that Eastman and the Oath Keepers—an anti-government militia group whose leadership has been found guilty of seditious conspiracy for their involvement in Jan. 6—did meet the requirements for disqualification under the Alaska Constitution’s Red Scare-era disloyalty clause but that other First Amendment case law ultimately protected his association with the group.
The case was brought by Randall Kowalke and Northern Justice Project attorney Goriune Dudukgian, who argued that Eastman’s membership in the group should disqualify him from holding office.
Judge McKenna found the group rose to the level of advocating for or taking part in the attempted violent overthrow of the United States government, he found that Eastman would have had to have done more than just be a member. In his ruling, he found Eastman would have had to either joined the group with the understanding that it supported the violent overthrow of the U.S. Government or did more than just reach the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
While Eastman joined more than a decade ago—giving the group more than $1,000 for a lifetime membership and a t-shirt—and attended Trump’s Jan. 6 rally and marched to the steps of the U.S. Capitol building, he testified that he never went further than that and the plaintiffs struggled to present evidence that concretely countered that claim.
Dudukgian said that determination, which falls into the realm of the factual conclusions that aren’t easily challenged at the Alaska Supreme Court, played a factor in their decision.
“We have the greatest respect for Judge McKenna,” he said in a prepared statement accompanying the announcement. “Although we think he made a mistake on whether or not Eastman had the specific intent to subvert our democracy, we also know our chances of getting this factual finding reversed on appeal are slim.”
In his prepared statement, Kowalke said he believed the case set a clear precedent moving forward.
“I felt that it was important to define our tolerance for this type of activity,” he said. “In the final analysis, the court agreed with us that the Oath Keepers is a dangerous organization but found that Rep. Eastman had enough plausible deniability to escape disqualification. But anyone who joins or continues to associate with the Oath Keepers after this ruling does so at his or her own peril.”
Eastman has never renounced his membership in the group or been critical of Oath Keepers leadership like founder Stewart Rhodes, who testified in the trial from a federal custody in Virginia.