Favorite

Partisan justice 

I had a nice visit with Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge Rhonda Wood last week.

She and I had engaged earlier in a little Twitter jousting over some of her political activities.

Wood had mentioned on both Twitter and Facebook her enthusiastic attendance at two Republican Party fund-raising events, including a speech by gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson, as well as a speech at the University of Arkansas by Wisconsin's Republican governor, Scott Walker.

I was interested for several reasons.

For one thing, Wood was just elected to the Court of Appeals, but the public appearances lent credence to the reports that she was planning a race for an open seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court. Judges can't formally begin campaigns until one year before the May 21, 2014 election, but they can certainly begin pressing the flesh.

For another thing, there was the matter of her attendance at Republican-flavored events. In her first race for Court of Appeals in 2010, Wood relied on robocalling by former Gov. Mike Huckabee to target voters. His message noted she'd been recommended for the bench by a Republican Party committee. Arkansas judicial elections switched from partisan to nonpartisan in 2000. Judicial ethics rules prohibit judicial candidates from claiming a connection to a political party (which Wood didn't explicitly do).

Wood, a former staff member for Huckabee, would be the last to claim anyone brings perfect neutrality to the bench. And, much as I have come to believe "merit selection" is the best course for filling judgeships, I also know that an appointment process inevitably will have political overtones, too.

Wood insists her record in Faulkner County illustrates fairness in handling cases involving political party figures. She says her recent attendance at Republican activities was mostly happenstance — that she'd be happy to attend Democratic Party events, too. (Noted in passing: She spoke of the "Democrat" Party, a subtle Republican putdown long used by GOP partisans.) She agrees that judicial engagement in social media can be problematic, but that she avoids statements on issues or beliefs. She defended her attendance at the Scott Walker event on the ground that she's a native of Wisconsin.

Wood lamented — as did several of her Republican legislative admirers, such as Sen. Michael Lamoureux — that the first round of judicial elections are held the same day as political party primaries, when partisan coloration is rampant. Better to have the election in November, they think.

Maybe it's all innocent. But a partisan-seasoned dog whistle can be a plus, particularly if you believe Arkansas is strongly trending Republican. It is the same sort of dog whistle heard in Wood's pronouncement that she is a "conservative" judge. Voters inevitably read that label as politically conservative, as opposed to, say, judicially conservative. A real judicial conservative is respectful of precedent (Roe v. Wade, for example; or the decades-long precedent, overturned not long ago by nominal "conservatives," that the 2nd Amendment should be read in context of the need for a militia).

I agree with Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, a Democratic partisan who speaks more than a judge should on matters of public controversy, that he, Wood and any judge enjoy nearly unbridled 1st Amendment protection from government punishment for speaking their minds, even exhibiting friendliness toward a political party. But just because you can speak freely, doesn't mean you should.

Republicans who lobbied in 2000 for nonpartisan judges (to deprive the Democratic Party of the filing fees that then flowed overwhelming in that direction), plus nonpartisan prosecutors (passed this session) and even nonpartisan sheriffs (failed this year) in the name of a pure justice system, should shut their hypocritical pieholes if they also approve of partisan-tinged politicking by one of their own.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Speaking of...

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

People who saved…

Readers also liked…

  • 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
  • Bootstraps for me, not thee

    Mean spirit, hypocrisy and misinformation abound among the rump minority threatening to wreck state government rather than allow passage of the state Medicaid appropriation if it continues to include the Obamacare-funded expansion of health insurance coverage for working poor.
    • Apr 14, 2016

Most Shared

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Don't cry for Robert E. Lee

    Congratulations are in order for Governor Hutchinson. He decided this year to devote the weight of his office to end the state's embarrassing dual holiday for slavery defender Robert E. Lee and civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr.
    • Mar 23, 2017
  • City Board discovers LRSD

    An article in Sunday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reminded me of John Belushi in "Animal House" exhorting frat brothers to rally against a dean's effort to put them out of business. "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?"
    • Mar 16, 2017
  • Supremely disappointing

    The Arkansas Supreme Court last week delivered a blow to civil rights in Arkansas. It was another results-oriented decision that gives a clue to how far the justices likely will go to appease the legislature.
    • Mar 2, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Brant Collins named Group Travel Manager for Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Brant Collins named Group Travel Manager for Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Collins to work toward increasing visitation to Arkansas by groups and promoting the state's appeal

Event Calendar

« »

March

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: Slim margin could decide 2014 elections

    • Good Day: to whom it may concern, I am Lori McKissick From Ohio U.S.A, I…

    • on March 28, 2017
  • Re: More on pits

    • "investigator of both sides": Aside from being a snide ass, you are an idiot. If…

    • on March 28, 2017
  • Re: More on pits

    • Society is also judged on whether it uses reason, or emotion to create laws. So,…

    • on March 28, 2017
 

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