Sunday, June 22, 2014

Equal rights for gay people imperiled by Arkansas judicial politics

Posted By on Sun, Jun 22, 2014 at 7:26 AM

JUSTICE COURTNEY GOODSON: Her expected candidacy for chief justice could figure in efforts to intimidate the court on marriage equality ruling.
  • JUSTICE COURTNEY GOODSON: Her expected candidacy for chief justice could figure in efforts to intimidate the court on marriage equality ruling.
John Lyonwriting for Stephens Media, makes clear what's afoot in Sen. Jason Rapert's little demagoguery at the Legislative Council last week with his resolution decrying Judge Chris Piazza's marriage equality ruling. It's all about intimidating the Arkansas Supreme Court, where an appeal of Piazza's ruling is pending.

Rapert and Jerry Cox, leader of the gay hate group known as the "Family" Council, make clear that a judicial recall law  will be their next ballot initiative if the Arkansas Supreme Court upholds Piazza. If it doesn't affirm Piazza, it will be the first court in the land that holds the U.S. Constitution provides equal rights and due process to everyone but gay people.

Given the growing politicization of the Arkansas Supreme Court, I'm not sanguine about the chances of Piazza being upheld.  It's all about the next election with some of the justices. Associate Justice Courtney Goodson is mounting a concerted effort to be elected chief justice in 2016 and has been wooing Justices Karen Baker and Jo Hart to form a ruling coalition on the court. Baker, I've been told reliably, put together a rump four votes while justices were out of town on a convention to force the staying of Piazza's ruling after 500 people had been legally married under it and dozens more were rushing to county clerks offices. It was a gloomy harbinger for the future decision.

If conservative social issue rulings are deemed necessary by members of this court for political reasons, aid can be predicted from Rhonda Wood, who'll join the court in January. She essentially ran as a Republican (anti-gay, in other words) and has relied throughout her political career on Mike Huckabee as a robocalling supporter. Huckabee is one of the strongest opponents of equal treatment of gay people on the American scene today, having depicted supporters of marriage equality as being on a par with Nazis. Huckabee has been flaying judges who've invoked the Constitution for gay rights. Would Wood dare cross her patron?

Here's the good news whatever happens in state court. The bigots like Rapert and Cox can't pass a law giving recall power to Arkansas voters over federal judges. A lawsuit over discrimination against gay people lodges there as well. (PS: I don't think there's a chance in hell Pulaski voters would recall Chris Piazza even if the law allowed it.)

Black people should be thankful that Rapert and Cox weren't around in the 1950s and 1960s, not that Arkansas state court judges did much for equal rights then. Rapert and Cox don't like to talk about it, but "we the people" overwhelmingly passed racial discrimination laws and a constitutional segregation amendment that stayed on the books until 1992. The bigots claimed Biblical ground for racial discrimination, too.

Only federal judges who cited the U.S. Constitution delivered equality to black people in the bad old days. And, in Arkansas, federal troops were required as well.

I've no doubt that Rapert and Cox can whip up fundamentalist church members to push to the ballot any number of oppressive attacks on people they don't like. They've oppressed women in restricting medical rights and oppressed people attempting to build adoptive and foster families. Courts have placed limits on these past efforts.

Also, it just might be the legislature isn't — yet — quite as bad as the Raperts and Coxes hope it someday will be.

Rapert, for example, fell far short of a majority of the entire legislature in lining up sponsors of his meaningless pro-hate resolution, which passed on a voice vote of a subgroup of the legislature. And there was this in Lyon's article:

Cox also said he would support impeaching Piazza, though he acknowledged that legislative support is currently lacking for that approach. 

That's something.

If Cox really cared about judicial activism, he might do something about Citizens United or other of the many recent legislating rulings by the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court. But, of course, legislating from the bench is objectionable only when you don't like the outcome.

JUDICIAL POLITICS PS: You can't really talk about Courtney Goodson's political ambitions without talking about her husband, political power player John Goodson, the class action lawyer and UA Board member. His allies poured money into Karen Baker's campaign as well as Rhonda Wood's campaign. Trial lawyers also came through with significant money to help pay off most of Jo Hart's campaign debt. The hottest rumor in judicial circles is that Goodson money — or friend-of-Goodson money — was behind the stealth campaigns that trashed Tim Cullen in his race against Robin Wynne for Arkansas Supreme Court. Why get into that race, besides potentially chumming up to Wynne? One theory is to send a message about how cheaply a Supreme Court campaign can be bought in Arkansas. $400,000 is chump change to a multi-millionaire like Goodson. But it shows a would-be challenger what he or she might be up against.

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