The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled today that the Court’s current seven members should decide Smith v. Wright, the case challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
The opinion issued by the Court today was in regards to a secondary case over the question of which justices should rule on the original lawsuit.
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Here’s the opinion, with Justice Karen Baker writing for the majority:
Three of the seven justices recused themselves from today’s opinion: Justice Rhonda Wood because the decision directly concerned her participation, and Chief Justice Jim Hannah and Justice Paul Danielson because they were strongly opposed to hearing the secondary case at all. In Hannah’s recusal letter, he said he believed the new case was created out of “whole cloth” by the majority of the court in order to delay the decision in the original marriage case.
In April, Governor Asa Hutchinson appointed Shawn Womack, Betty Dickey and Brett Watson as special justices to hear the secondary case. In a separate concurrence today, Watson said he believed the majority’s opinion was written too broadly, though he agreed on the fundamental question of allowing Wood to participate in the marriage case.
Previously, Tippi McCullough of the Stonewall Democrats filed a complaint with the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission against the remaining justices — Karen Baker, Courtney Goodson, Jo Hart and Robin Wynne — on the basis of the recusal letters from Danielson and Hannah.
According to the Times’ sources, the Court voted on the original case Nov. 20, with one justice drawing the majority opinion. That opinion wasn’t completed by the end of the year, and soon thereafter the composition of the court changed due to the November elections.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge filed a motion in April contending that the matter should be reargued and that the current members of the Court should decide the case. Plaintiffs’ attorneys originally objected to the new panel deciding the case, but relented in hopes of speeding up the case (which further should’ve made the secondary case unnecessary).
Special Justice Robert McCorkindale and now-retired Justice Donald Corbin were part of the panel of justices who heard the original appeal in November. McCorkindale served in place of former Justice Cliff Hoofman, who recused from the original case and now serves on the Arkansas Court of Appeals. Justice Wood filled Hoofman’s place on the Court. Justice Wynne was elected to replace Corbin.
What’s next? Either the current Court will conference again, vote again, assign a majority opinion again and so forth, or it’ll ask for oral arguments again. In either case, as we’ve said before, don’t expect a decision before the U.S. Supreme Court has its say.