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Alaska Supreme Court hears Recall Dunleavy case, ruling could come soon

Three Alaska Supreme Court justices hear the oral arguments in the Recall Dunleavy case. (03/25/2020)
Three Alaska Supreme Court justices hear the oral arguments in the Recall Dunleavy case. (03/25/2020)(KTUU)
Published: Mar. 25, 2020 at 3:47 PM AKDT
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The Alaska Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case that will determine if a recall election can proceed against Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

On Wednesday, three of Alaska’s five Supreme Court justices were present in court, two called in remotely along with the attorneys for both parties. Justice Craig Stowers said that the threat of COVID-19 had necessitated the change of proceedings for the court.

In early March, Chief Justice Joel Bolger recused himself from the case and was replaced by retired Supreme Court Justice Robert Eastaugh.

In a prelude to the oral arguments, Stowers hit back at claims that the Supreme Court would treat the recall case differently from any other case because of its subject matter. “That is categorically not true,” he said.

The oral arguments began with Margaret Paton-Walsh representing the State of Alaska against the recall effort, calling it “purely political.”

The Alaska Division of Elections rejected Recall Dunleavy’s petition after receiving advice from Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson.

Paton-Walsh said that the recall statutes were written to remove officials from office “who should not be in power.” She said that allegations about lack of fitness for office or incompetence made against the governor did not rise to the level required for him to be recalled, even if Alaska statutes were violated.

Recall Dunleavy submitted four grounds for why the governor should be removed from office, including that he did not appoint a judge to the Palmer Superior Court within the 45-day limit prescribed under Alaska statute.

Paton-Walsh focused on that charge, asking why the governor breaking the 45-day statute should see a recall election move ahead. “Perhaps because the governor is charged with applying the laws faithfully,” Stowers said, before later stating, “The statute requires appointment within 45 days.”

Jahna Lindemuth, a former Alaska attorney general under former-Gov. Bill Walker, represented Recall Dunleavy, arguing that the recall statutes were deliberately left vague.

Multiple justices asked Lindemuth whether there were limits to how liberally the recall claims could be. Lindemuth said the grounds submitted were legally sufficient and it should ultimately be up to voters to decide whether the governor is recalled.

Lindemuth said that the governor’s actions did not necessarily need to cause harm as that provision is not in Alaska statutes. “Neither is the liberal construction doctrine,” Stowers said.

After oral arguments, Stowers said the court would take the case under advisement and make a ruling at a later date. A summary decision could be made as soon as Wednesday evening or Thursday morning.

A favorable Supreme Court ruling does not necessarily ensure that a recall election will proceed.

To trigger a recall election, Recall Dunleavy would need to collect 71,252 signatures from registered Alaska voters. By Friday, Claire Pywell, the campaign manager for Recall Dunleavy, said that the campaign will have collected 30,200 signatures or roughly 40% of the required signatures.

Petition booklets would need to be submitted 180 days before Dunleavy leaves office and signatures would need to be certified by the Alaska Division of Elections.

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