An order from the Alaska Supreme Court allows independent candidates, including Gov. Bill Walker, to run on state parties’ primary ballots – a decision with potential ramifications in this year’s general elections.

The high court issued a one-page order affirming a Superior Court judge’s decision in favor of the Alaska Democratic Party, which wanted to allow undeclared and non-partisan candidates to run in Democratic primaries. That request was initially denied by the state Division of Elections in 2016.

The State of Alaska appealed to the high court, citing its interest in protecting a “party affiliation rule” requiring that candidates appearing on a party’s primary ballot be registered with that party.

Wednesday’s order cites both sides’ need for a rapid decision due to a June 1 filing deadline.

“Accordingly, having considered the parties’ briefing and the oral arguments, the Superior Court’s judgment is affirmed,” justices wrote. “An opinion explaining our decision will be issued at a later date.”

Chief Justice Craig Stowers included a four-page “dubitante” document, indicating a doubtful opinion of a ruling from a judge who refuses to declare it wrong.

“By virtue of the court’s order affirming the superior court, the supreme court necessarily agrees that [the party affiliation rule] unconstitutionally interferes with the (Democratic) Party’s rights of association,” Stowers wrote. “I am inclined to conclude that the party affiliation rule’s minimal burden on the party is justified by the state’s reasonable interests.”

Marilyn May, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Court System's appellate courts, said by email Wednesday afternoon that "there is no way to know" when the court's five justices will issue their formal opinion.

Samantha Miller, with the state Division of Elections, said only the Alaska Democratic Party had changed its bylaws to allow for non-partisans and independents to run in its primaries.

A state Department of Law response to the ruling Wednesday afternoon said staff "will be tasked with designing ballots that clearly and accurately reflect the registration status and nominee status of candidates on both the primary and general election ballots."

“We appreciate the expedited nature of this order by the Alaska Supreme Court,” Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said in the statement. “This order gives the Division of Elections the ability to better prepare for the June 1 filing date for candidate declarations and the upcoming primary election.”

Alaska Democratic Party Chair Casey Steinau said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that party officials "appreciate the quick decision of the Alaska Supreme Court."

"Today’s decision brings to a conclusion the party’s two-year effort to provide Democratic primary voters greater choices when determining who will be the Democratic Party’s nominee in the general election," Steinau said. "As more Alaskans register as non-partisan or undeclared, it just makes sense for those who agree with the values of the Alaska Democratic Party be allowed to seek our party’s nomination, regardless of how they are registered to vote."

"We believed we had the constitutional argument on our side. As a party, we could determine for ourselves who can seek the Democratic nomination," said Jay Parmley, executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party. 

"What’s good for the goose is good for the gander," said Tuckerman Babcock, chair of the Alaska Republican Party, "And the Democrats, they want to control who they want to be in their primary-- and state law does not allow them to do it-- and the judges said state law cannot trump the party's right to choose who can be in their primary, and we made it clear under our rules, the turncoat Republicans are not Republicans."

Walker campaign spokeswoman Lindsay Hobson said the court’s order was still being assessed by staff Wednesday.

“As you can imagine, they are evaluating the decision,” Hobson said. “There’s no determination of what impacts, if any, there will be on the campaign at this point.”

Justices listened to arguments in the case in a special hearing Thursday at Kenai Central High School, which was attended by students.

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