Political Signage Placement at Heart of ACLU Lawsuit Against the State of Alaska
September’s approach means that back-to-school discussions will undoubtedly be intensifying over the next few days, with some institutions (and we pity them) having already resumed classes. Education will not resound as the only issue that dominates as summer gives way to fall, as plenty of candidates will be vying to make the general election season a standout period for their parties and platforms. In Alaska, though, the constitutionality of signs pertaining to campaigns has become a hot ticket, with the local American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chapter yesterday filing a lawsuit against the state over its political signage restrictions.
Along with the state at large, the nonprofit organization is also chastising the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities in the legal matter, taking the tandem to task over the recent seizure of 30 signs in the Anchorage area, dubbing them safety hazards. As far as the ACLU is concerned, though, their removal has less to do with the state’s 19.25.105 statute—which prohibits outdoor advertising on or within 660 feet of state rights-of-way for interstate, primary and secondary highways— and more to do with suppression of political messages, in this case, those regarding Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Dunleavy’s promotional signage displays.
ACLU of Alaska Files Suit Against State of Alaska for Unconstitutional Crackdown on Political Speech https://t.co/N668WXwBoQ #akleg #akpolitics #VoteLikeYourRightsDependOnIt pic.twitter.com/IqC6GrrY5W
— ACLU of Alaska (@ACLUofAlaska) August 24, 2018
According to the Anchorage Daily News, this summer found the state’s Department of Transportation pegging as many as 250 signs for removal for their supposed violation of the statute, but Must Read Alaska includes a revelation by department spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy that perhaps only 50 markers truly posed any concern. According to its lawsuit, the ACLU contends that several signs pertaining to Dunleavy’s campaign ended up among the removed items, and the supposition that political pressure motivated their confiscation could take on greater significance as the matter grows.
Must Read Alaska notes that the Department of Transportation has admitted that all signs relevant to Independent incumbent Bill Walker’s campaign remained intact. Along with Dunleavy, the lawsuit lists Eric Siebels, a Department of Transportation employee, interestingly, as a plaintiff, as he stated, according to Must Read Alaska, that the crackdown also concerned the placement of signs by homeowners.
“There is no right more fundamental to a democracy than the right of an individual to express their personal political views,” ACLU of Alaska executive director Joshua A. Decker said of the restraint. “That is why the U.S. Supreme Court has afforded political speech special protection. If the government wants to seize that right by barring Alaskans from displaying political signs on their own property, they need a more compelling reason than because somebody might see it.”
From a legal perspective, this figures to be an interesting fight, especially since Dunleavy, one would presume, would much rather focus on fine-tuning his messages than arguing that the state is trying to suppress said tenets. Looking at this from a print and signage point of view, it appears that, regardless of (or, perhaps, because of) the state’s supposed backlash, the Dunleavy campaign is proving popular among the voter base.
Must Read Alaska reported that the signs, which chairman Terre Gales described as “colorful and attractive,” have reached more than 100 communities. That expanse shows the power of branding, as the signs are not run-of-the-mill placards but interesting attempts to acknowledge life in Alaska. Might they end up being a strong enough complement to Dunleavy's speeches and campaign stops, especially if the ACLU emerges victorious?