Scott Kendall’s Jan. 16 commentary criticizing the Superior Court for its decision in the Eastman lawsuit, and urging the Alaska Legislature to expel Rep. David Eastman, is wrong on the law, facts and policy.
Courts have long-instructed that First Amendment rights cannot be infringed based on “guilt by association” unless specific intent of unlawful activity can be proved. No such evidence was ever presented in Eastman’s case. The Eastman affair was decided more than 50 years ago in Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169 (1971), an opinion reinforced in NAACP v. Clairborne Hardware, 458 U.S. 886 (1982). Any first-year law student from a credible law school would be familiar with these cases. It is unclear why it took the Superior Court so long to acknowledge controlling precedent, but the end result was never in doubt.
Mr. Kendall’s next option, asking the Alaska Legislature to toss a duly elected legislator from its ranks, is foreclosed by Bond v. Floyd, 385 U.S. 116 (1966). In case one wonders, yes, that was Julian Bond’s case. Mr. Bond was a leading civil rights advocate. Absent proof — actual evidence — that Eastman engaged in unlawful conduct (and no such evidence was ever presented), voters should not be disenfranchised and First Amendment rights should not be brushed aside. Mr. Kendall’s reliance on the Fourteenth Amendment fails for the same lack of evidence.
I am no “fan” of David Eastman, but the Constitution exists for the least of us, not the most popular. Every political, social, cultural and religious group includes fringe elements. We should never allow unnamed faceless bureaucrats (or, worse, bought and paid for “research fellows” posing as expert witnesses) to decide which group is “correct” and which is not. Courts should never disenfranchise voters based on flimsy arguments and evidence from political opponents that would embarrass a Soviet jurist.
The irony is Mr. Kendall’s commentary was published on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The civil rights movement would never have been possible without our Constitutional protections and safeguards.
— Gregory S. Fisher
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