Judge: Alaska elections officials must enforce disloyalty clause

a man and a woman at a podium
Gail Fenumiai, director of the Alaska Division of Elections, speaks to reporters on March 22, 2022. At background is Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

An Anchorage Superior Court judge on Monday ruled that the Alaska Division of Elections has a duty to determine whether a candidate for public office is ineligible for disloyalty.

It means the case remains on schedule for arguments later this month that could decide Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman’s future as a candidate and a legislator. 

Monday’s order by Judge Jack McKenna denied an attempt by the division to dismiss itself from a lawsuit challenging Eastman’s eligibility for office. 

The lawsuit was filed July 26 by Randall Kowalke, a former member of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly, who claims that Eastman’s membership in a far-right organization violates the “disloyalty clause” of the Alaska Constitution. 

That clause says in part that anyone who belongs to or supports an organization that advocates the “overthrow by force or violence” of the U.S. government shall not be eligible for public office.

Attorneys representing the division said it should not be in charge of enforcing the clause because it lacks investigatory powers and that making judgments about the clause could be seen as a partisan act. McKenna acknowledged the difficulty of investigating claims but said the division has a duty to enforce the Alaska Constitution.

Members of the Oath Keepers, including the group’s leader, have been accused of various crimes linked to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Eastman has not been accused of any crime. He holds a life membership in the Oath Keepers but has said he’s never attended a meeting of the organization.

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