Circuit Judge Shawn Womack of Mountain Home announced today that he’ll run next year for Arkansas Supreme Court, the seat to be vacated by retirement of Justice Paul Danielson.
Womack didn’t invite the Arkansas Times to his Capitol news conference, in keeping with the no-contact practice of such other Republican judges as Justice Rhonda Wood. (Judges run as non-partisan candidates, but in recent years Republicans such as Wood and likely Womack make their allegiances clear with coded theme words — “conservative,” “family values” — and sometimes endorsements from partisan politicians.)
Womack, a former Republican legislator, has been positioning for the run since last summer.
I haven’t been impressed with his reasoning, such as when he told the citizens commission studying judicial pay raises that there could be a federal equal protection lawsuit over the difference in pay for judges in Arkansas and other states. This was bodacious on several counts, not the least of which is Womack’s purported belief in federalism. It was also bodacious because Arkansas, one of the poorest states, pays its judges better than most states according to a national survey.
More problematic for a putative impartial jurist are some of Womack’s pronouncements as a rabidly partisan legislator. A lowlight was his famous bill to prevent gay people from adopting, an idea later ruled unconstitutional by the court now Womack hopes to join. Womack was a Gov. Asa Hutchinson appointment to the Supreme Court case created by several justices to produce a decision that ensured Rhonda Wood and not a special justice would vote on the same-sex marriage case. Presumably it will be completed before the election in which Womack has filed is decided, but it’s been pending more than a year now. Danielson wrote that the splinter case was merely a delaying tactic by four members of the court.
Danielson announced today that he wouldn’t seek re-election in 2016 because state law would require him to forfeit his state retirement otherwise. He’ll turn 70 before the end of the year. Being elected to a term after the 70th birthday causes a loss of benefits. Rep. Matthew Shepherd introduced legislation to move the age to 72 in the last legislative session, but it failed. Danielson has been a judge for 20 years, which entitles him at the end of 2016 to as much as 67.2 percent of his current pay of $166,500 in retirement.
Danielson said in a statement:
Were it not for the state law prohibiting me from seeking re-election without forfeiting my retirement benefits, I would continue to seek re-election as long as the good people of this state would have me,
No word yet from Chief Justice Jim Hannah who faces a similar age conundrum in deciding whether to seek re-election as chief justice next year. Justice Courtney Goodson is planning to run.