This week, Governor Mike Dunleavy introduced a bill that would violate Alaskans’ rights to free speech and assembly, while criminalizing those who exercise those rights. It was a stark reminder that in his time as governor, Dunleavy has repeatedly targeted and violated the First Amendment rights of Alaskans. The following represents examples of Governor Dunleavy’s failure to defend First Amendment rights through executive orders, actions, and the legislature. 

Dunleavy’s loyalty pledge for state workers (2018) 

Upon entering office in 2018, Governor Dunleavy’s transition team sent an email to all at-will state employees from the previous administration—including long-term civil servants with non-political jobs--requiring them to submit resignation letters and if they wanted to remain employed, endorse the Dunleavy administration and reapply for their jobs. The federal district court held that the loyalty pledge required by the State of Alaska and its new leadership was a massive First Amendment violation. While some were left jobless, others stayed on with closed lips, afraid to exercise their right to think and speak freely. The Governor’s attempt to smother opposing political viewpoints of state staff was a direct violation of the First Amendment, and this legacy continues in the Dunleavy administration’s actions to this day.

In 2019, the ACLU of Alaska filed suit on behalf of two Alaska Psychiatric Institute doctors, Anthony Blanford and John Bellville, who were fired in 2018 for putting their patients before politics and refusing to pledge their allegiance to the incoming Dunleavy administration. That lawsuit was settled in 2022 after the federal district court found that the state violated their constitutional free speech rights. The court similarly ruled in favor of Libby Bakalar, a former assistant attorney general who was illegally fired and settled her lawsuit last year.  The ACLU of Alaska also represented Keren Lowell, a former Alaska State Council on the Arts employee, who was targeted by the administration after speaking out publicly about its fiscal policies; the state paid lost wages and damages rather than going to trial. The Governor’s efforts are not only unconstitutional, but expensive, costing Alaskans millions of dollars in settlement fees.    

Administrative Order No. 312: Union fees (2019) 

Governor Dunleavy’s Administrative Order (AO) 312 in 2019 required all unionized state employees to “opt-in” to their union if they wanted to continue being members. The AO was issued in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Janus, which undermined the interests of those who wanted to associate in a union and was a tragedy for the First Amendment. The governor’s AO required state employees who were union members to sign a form every year saying that they were waiving certain First Amendment rights before union dues could be deducted from their paychecks. At the time, the AFL-CIO, the umbrella organization for many of the state’s unions, called the order a misinterpretation of recent court rulings that was an attempt to ‘union bust,’ and other organizations sued the Administration.  

While Dunleavy and the State of Alaska claimed the case was about the First Amendment, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the Administration “acted with hostility” toward the union and sided with the Alaska State Employees Association. 

Court order requiring press conference invitations 

In 2021, Jeff Landfield, owner and operator of The Alaska Landmine website, sued Governor Dunleavy and his Administration, who had been preventing Landfield from attending the Governor’s press conferences. A judge issued an injunction requiring Governor Dunleavy to invite Landfield to media briefings, writing that members of the media have the right under the First Amendment to be invited to press conferences.  

Administrative Order No. 352: Boycotting Israel (2024) 

On February 5, 2024, Governor Dunleavy announced a new Administrative Order (AO) that prohibits the State of Alaska from granting contracts to businesses and organizations with more than 10 employees, and with contracts for more than $100,000, that have supported or participated in boycotts of Israel. The order’s language closely follows House Bill 2, introduced by Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer. 

The AO and introduced legislation are a direct violation of the First Amendment. Free speech is protected under the U.S. and Alaska Constitutions, and the Governor’s order is clear viewpoint discrimination against entities that have taken disfavored positions that have nothing to do with their ability to fulfill contract terms.  

The ACLU of Alaska opposes this Administrative Order and HB 2 for their gross violations of Alaskans’ freedom of speech.  

HB 386/ SB255: Cracking down on protests 

On February 21, 2024, Governor Dunleavy introduced legislation that would effectively crack down on people's ability to protest, demonstrate, and freely assemble in public places. His proposed legislation not only violates our rights to free speech and assembly but proposes to criminalize Alaskans who exercise those rights and to chill free speech. The bill lacks specification and proposes criminal consequences for everything from protests to homelessness. It would put automatic civil liability on Alaskans exercising their constitutionally afforded rights without consideration for protected speech and other First Amendment defenses.  

The ACLU of Alaska opposes HB 386/ SB 255.

Governor Dunleavy has a long history of failing to uphold and defend the First Amendment rights of Alaskans. The ACLU of Alaska continues to monitor and fight against bills and executive orders that directly violate the First Amendment rights of Alaskans and will continue to advocate for the First Amendment rights of all Alaskans.  

This blogpost will be updated with ongoing examples of Governor Dunleavy’s bad actions on First Amendment rights for Alaskans.