Mike Dunleavy for governor and Jerry Nankervis for state house election sign on Egan Drive at 17-mile on Friday, Aug. 24, 2018. Alaska statute states signs on private or commercial property cannot be located within 660 feet of a state-maintained road or “with the purpose of their message being read from the main traveled way.” (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Mike Dunleavy for governor and Jerry Nankervis for state house election sign on Egan Drive at 17-mile on Friday, Aug. 24, 2018. Alaska statute states signs on private or commercial property cannot be located within 660 feet of a state-maintained road or “with the purpose of their message being read from the main traveled way.” (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Alaska agrees to allow small political signs while lawsuit proceeds

ACLU continues to challenge state’s billboard ban

Correction: The first version of this story misspelled the name of state attorney Michael Schechter.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union appear to have reached partial agreement on the issue of campaign signs along state roads.

The ACLU, in conjunction with a political group supporting the election of Mike Dunleavy as governor, has sued the state to partially overturn a 1998 voter-approved ban on billboards. This summer, the state has removed some political signs that violate that ban, and the ACLU claims the state is enforcing the law unequally by removing political signs but not commercial signs.

Under state law, any sign visible from a state road and within 660 feet of that road is illegal unless attached to a building.

In court filings, the state says it will ignore small signs that violate the law, as long as those signs are on private property. To date, the state said, it has not removed any signs from private property, only from the public right of way.

“The state agrees … that while this case is pending, it must allow small, temporary political signs to be posted on private property,” state attorneys wrote.

The ACLU has requested an immediate injunction to keep the state from removing political signs, and the ACLU is pursues a broader attack on the state law. On Thursday, attorneys from both the state and ACLU presented oral arguments in front of Anchorage Superior Court Judge Herman Walker Jr.

Walker took the case under advisement and did not immediately issue a ruling.

In court filings, state attorney Michael Schechter requested a “narrow preliminary injunction limited to allowing the specific form of political speech addressed by the Plaintiffs: small, temporary political campaign signs no larger than 4’ x 8’ displayed on private property by owners or occupants of the property who have not been paid to display the signs.”

If Walker rejects that request and issues a broader injunction against the law, it might affect the ability of the state to ban commercial billboards.

Attorney Peter Scully, representing the ACLU, said that isn’t the goal of the organization.

“We are not advocating for paid advertising; we’re not advocating for billboards,” Scully.

Scully, of Holland & Knight, added that the ACLU is not entirely opposed to a narrow injunction because it believes it has a strong case and will eventually overturn the anti-billboard law in part or wholly.

“We think the court can get there, but it doesn’t need to get all the way there,” he said of the injunction.

While it might agree with the state on the matter of signs on private property, the ACLU is continuing to push for a broader injunction, one that allows political signs within state highways’ rights of way.

Schechter said the state opposes that.

“The problem is clear … we have a flood of political campaign signs in the right of way,” he said to Walker, referencing signs that block the view of drivers on state roads.

Walker asked Schechter whether the state’s actions could have a “chilling effect” on the actions of people who are uncertain of the law, then referenced the example of plaintiff Eric Siebels, whom the ACLU and the Dunleavy group are representing.

Schechter referenced a picture of a sign erected by Siebels.

“Considering he’s got a giant sign up there, I would say no,” Schechter said.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at jbrooks@juneauempire.com or 523-2258.


A collection of signs confiscated in Juneau is seen at an Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities facility on July 24, 2018 in this image provided by the DOT. (Courtesy photo)

A collection of signs confiscated in Juneau is seen at an Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities facility on July 24, 2018 in this image provided by the DOT. (Courtesy photo)

More in News

A Princess Cruise Line ship is docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the week of May 22, 2022

Here’s what to expect this week.

Coast Guard aircrews medevaced two people from Dry Bay Airstrip, approximately 30 miles Southeast of Yakutat, Alaska, after their plane crashed, May 25, 2022. (Courtesy photo / Coast Guard District 17)
Three medevaced after plane crash near Yakutat

All four aboard were injured, three critically so.

The author’s appreciation for steelhead has turned into something like reverence considering what’s happening to populations in the Lower 48 and Canada. (Jeff Lund / For the Juneau Empire)
I Went to the Woods: Silent steel

“You forget most of what ends up in the freezer, but those steelhead, they stick with you.”

Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, seen here in this June 16, 2021, file photo, announced Wednesday he will not seek relelection in the Alaska State Senate, where he has served since 2013. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file)
Senate president says he won’t run again

“Honor and a privilege.”

Hoonah’s Alaska Youth Stewards helped make improvements to Moby and water the plants in summer 2021. (Courtesy Photo / Jillian Schuyler)
Resilient Peoples & Place: Moby the Mobile Greenhouse cultivates community

It presents opportunities to grow food knowledge and skills.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Thursday, May 26, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Alaska Supreme Court orders use of interim map for elections

The decision came just over a week before the June 1 filing deadline for the August primaries.

A male red-winged blackbird displays his showy red patches and calls to a rival male (Gina Vose photo)
On the Trails: Birds and beetles at Kingfisher Pond

Something is almost always happening at Kingfisher Pond.

Most Read