Favorite

Judicial politics: It's time 

The legislature will discuss judicial elections this year.

The major questions are related:

Should we elect judges at all?

If judges are to be elected, shouldn't we have more information about who pays to influence the outcomes?

The questions became high-profile thanks to two Arkansas Supreme Court races this year. Circuit Judge Dan Kemp defeated Associate Justice Courtney Goodson to fill the vacant chief justice seat in a campaign marked by extraordinary spending by Goodson herself (she loaned her campaign $500,000) and by a shadowy private group that spent hundreds of thousands on TV to trash Goodson. In the other race, another shadowy group with unidentified contributions ran dishonest TV ads against Clark Mason, defeated by former Republican state Sen. Shawn Womack in a race for a vacant associate justice seat.

Gov. Hutchinson is among those said to be open to moving to appointment of appellate judges (the governor would be in control) and also to do something about "dark money" in judicial races.

Now comes his nephew, Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Little Rock), to confirm that the Judiciary Committee he chairs has tentatively scheduled a meeting March 31 on both election of judges and campaign financing. The date isn't firm. It might occur later in the spring.

The hearings won't be an amen corner for reform. Some influential people would like to send a constitutional amendment to voters for appointment, rather than election of appellate judges. A quirk in the Constitution allows this to be referred to the ballot as early as this coming November. Some people prefer election. Funny how a Republican governor has also unsettled some past supporters of appointment. Some favor appointment, but they fear — with some reason — that the legislature might simply put an open-ended enabling amendment on the ballot, with appointment details left to the legislature. It's a recipe for disaster. See how the legislature toyed with and neutered a so-called ethics amendment approved by voters.

Sen. Hutchinson insists he won't go along with anything less than a specific proposal for voters. But the specifics of that remain unclear for now. For his part, he wants no committee to vet potential appointees for a governor. He favors giving the governor total control, subject to legislative confirmation, like the federal judicial system. He also favors a single 12-year term for judges. There'd be no additional terms and no retention elections at which voters could toss out a judge. To have retention elections would only bring elections and special interest money back into play, he says.

Rep. Clarke Tucker will be on hand with his legislation — quashed by Republicans in 2015 — to require disclosure of sources of money for electioneering ads. As it now stands, ads that lack specific advocacy words (vote FOR or AGAINST, for example) are free from required disclosure of finances. Court precedent says more transparency is possible, though outlawing independent expenditures probably isn't. Those who like secret financing schemes — particularly business interests — will fight to keep secrecy. They'll try to pretend they have a First Amendment right to secrecy. They do not. Even a Scalia court has made that clear.

We are also likely to hear a proposal for public financing of judicial elections, perhaps funded by an additional fee on lawyers. Money could be raised privately, under this idea, if outside money surfaced in a race. To me, that sounds like a more complicated disease, not a cure. A judge is expected to make this proposal, in hopes of saving elections over appointments.

Arkansas has rarely had groundswells for better government. Though the timing seems better for a shot at judicial improvements this year, the competing interests could easily stymie all but continuation of the status quo. Status quo is better; however, than a Chamber of Commerce judicial branch that slams the courthouse doors shut to all but a favored few.

Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • The assault on Obamacare begins

    Donald Trump Friday night signed an executive order directing government to scale back Obamacare to the extent possible. Though the signing was mostly symbolic, it likely has implications for Arkansas.
    • Jan 21, 2017
  • Two dead in North Little Rock shooting

    two people were fatally wounded about 9 p.m. Friday in a home in the 1400 block of Division Street, North Little Rock.
    • Jan 21, 2017
  • 2nd Amendment meets the 1st in Fayetteville on campus carry

    They've had a forum in Fayetteville today on Rep. Charlie Collins' fervent desire to force more pistol-packing people onto the campus at the University of Arkansas (and every other college in Arkansas.) He got an earful from opponents.
    • Jan 20, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Supremely discredited

    Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood and her allies continue to discredit the state's highest court.
    • Jul 30, 2015
  • Hutchinson pulls Faubus move

    I don't know what if anything might arise or be planned in the future relative to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's order to end Medicaid reimbursement for medical services (not abortion) provided by Planned Parenthood in Arkansas.
    • Aug 20, 2015
  • Neighborliness, in Little Rock and beyond

    I had a parochial topic in mind this week — a surprise plan by Mayor Mark Stodola to address the Arkansas Arts Center's many needs.
    • Nov 19, 2015

Most Shared

  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders to be deputy White House press secretary

    Donald Trump announced additional White House staff today, notably including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy assistant to the president and principal deputy press secretary.
  • Legislation filed for $10 million school voucher program

    The legislation to vastly expand transfer of state tax dollars to private schools came before the school choice day event I mentioned earlier.
  • Facing closure, Wilson Elementary families deliver angry message to school leaders

    "Why do you guys not care about your community? You’re tearing it down, not building it up, especially in the black community … It’s just a simple question — do you care?" one mother asked the superintendent. "Ma’am, I do care deeply about this district, and I do believe wholeheartedly we are making a better district every day," Poore replied.
  • Trumpeting

    When President-elect Trump announced he would, in a few days, force Congress to enact comprehensive health insurance for everyone, poor or rich, that would provide better and cheaper care than they've ever gotten, you had to wonder whether this guy is a miracle worker or a fool.
  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Pork and more

    Some notes on disparate topics before I take a vacation break.
    • Jan 19, 2017
  • Praising Asa

    Let us now praise the governor for a starkly moderate record, at least in comparison with other red-state executives.
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • More on LRSD tax

    When the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and a Walton Foundation-paid lobbyist, long devoted critics of the Little Rock School District, lead the messaging for a quarter-billion dollars in new tax debt for the district, it is cause for caution.
    • Jan 5, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

Jack Pearadin and Doug Nelsen found a 1.73-carat diamond after nearly a year of searching the park's field.

Event Calendar

« »

January

S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • Lyons doesn't have an ex-wife, silly.

    • on January 23, 2017
  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • What? That was all made up? Oh my. Well, let's hope he gets busy on…

    • on January 22, 2017
  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • Pssst - Lyons plans to pen a column on why the donors stopped giving to…

    • on January 22, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation