The ACLU of Alaska today announced lawsuits against Governor Mike Dunleavy, his Chief of Staff Tuckerman Babcock, and the State of Alaska on behalf of three former state workers who were illegally terminated immediately upon the Governor taking office.
The suits stem from the Governor’s demand that non-political, non-policy-making state workers submit their resignations and, if they wanted to keep their jobs, reapply with a pledge of personal political support for Gov. Dunleavy and Mr. Babcock’s agenda.
The directive violates longstanding court holdings that non-political, non-policy-making public workers cannot be forced to relinquish their free speech rights as a condition of employment and cannot be retaliated against for expressing their own views. It is also a well-established constitutional principle that the right to remain silent is as much a part of our free speech rights as the right to speak out.
The three plaintiffs are former Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth (Libby) Bakalar, former Alaska Psychiatric Institute Director of Psychiatry Dr. Anthony Blanford, and former Alaska Psychiatric Institute Staff Psychiatrist Dr. John Bellville.
Ms. Bakalar submitted her resignation but made clear it was not voluntary. Ms. Bakalar expresses her own political views on a popular blog. Her termination came in retaliation for expressing these views differing from Gov. Dunleavy and Mr. Babcock’s.
Drs. Blanford and Bellville declined to resign, believing such a declaration would violate their ethical obligations to put their patients’ needs first. Because they exercised their First Amendment right to refuse to take an oath of political loyalty, Gov. Dunleavy and Mr. Babcock fired them.
“There is a misperception that because Alaska is an ‘at will’ state and these are ‘exempt’ or partially ‘exempt’ positions that the government can fire our clients for any reason,” said ACLU of Alaska Legal Director Stephen Koteff. He continued, “In fact, no employee can be fired or retaliated against for an illegal reason and no one loses their constitutional rights just by working in Alaska or serving the public. It’s been more than seventy-five years since the United States Supreme Court said the government can’t force a person to say the ‘Pledge of Allegiance,’ and this is no different.”
“This kind of political retaliation against non-political state workers is an attack on the very foundations of free speech and good government,” said ACLU of Alaska Executive Director Joshua A. Decker. He continued, “Party bosses making political allegiance a de facto requirement for government service is the of root of a corrupt spoils system America has worked to eradicate for over a century. We can’t let Mr. Babcock and Gov. Dunleavy bring it back. Alaskans don’t want their doctor, their pharmacist, or their veteran’s affairs worker putting a partisan agenda ahead of them.”
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.