The Federal District Court in Alaska ruled today that the Dunleavy Administration violated the constitutional rights of two Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API) doctors by firing them after they refused to pledge their allegiance to the Governor’s political agenda. In December 2018, just after being elected, Governor Dunleavy demanded that all at-will State employees tender their resignations and show affirmative support for his political agenda. Doctors Anthony Blanford and John Bellville refused to resign, believing their allegiance was first to their patients and making such a pledge would violate their duties as doctors.
In a sweeping victory, the court wrote in summary judgment: “It was made clear that by submitting a resignation, the employee was actually signaling a commitment to work with the new governor and on behalf of his agenda. This agenda was later described by Mr. Babcock to include support for a full statutory PFD, the repeal of Senate Bill 91, reorganization of government agencies, pro-life issues, and a balanced state budget. Plaintiffs did not want to align themselves with these political priorities to the extent they involved funding cuts and hiring freezes that would detrimentally affect the functioning of API, and therefore they did not submit their resignations. They consequently were fired for this exercise of their associational rights guaranteed under the First Amendment.”
“Our clients took brave lawful steps to protect vulnerable Alaskans; that is honorable beyond measure and defines what it means to be a dedicated public servant. Despite their commitment to the people who need them, the Dunleavy Administration unlawfully retaliated against them for their refusal to politicize the mental health care they provided,” ACLU of Alaska Legal Director Stephen Koteff said. “But we never doubted the court would rule in the name of justice and to protect the free speech rights of our clients, and all state employees.”
In December 2018, Dunleavy took office and began demanding letters of resignation and loyalty pledges from at-will employees with the help of former Chief of Staff Tuckerman Babcock. Both Dunleavy and Babcock made it clear that refusing to toe their political line would cost people their jobs. Out of principle, Doctors Blanford and Bellville refused. As such, they were terminated.
On behalf of the doctors, the ACLU of Alaska filed suit against Dunleavy, Babcock, and the State of Alaska in 2019.
Friday’s summary judgment declares victory for the ACLU of Alaska on all arguments.