Last week on the blog, we’ve been following the tussle between Secretary of State Mark Martin and Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray over the timing of a ruling on a challenge to the Voter ID law. Gray has yet to issue a ruling, worth noting because yesterday was the deadline that Martin insisted he needed a ruling in advance of.
A public interest lawsuit with Barry Haas as plaintiff and Jeff Priebe as his attorney asks Gray to enjoin use of the state’s new voter ID law in the primary elections set for May 22. The Arkansas Supreme Court held in a 2014 case (also argued by Priebe) that a previous version of the law was unconstitutional. The 2017 legislature altered the language in the law but the new lawsuit argues that it remains unconstitutional (the membership of the Supreme Court itself has changed quite a bit since the 2014 ruling).
Martin filed a motion with the state Supreme Court last week requesting that Gray be forced to make a ruling in the case “well in advance of April 6, 2018.” The Supreme Court unanimously rejected the request without comment. (It was one of two times last week that the Court summarily rejected a request by a state officeholder to intervene in a lower court.)
Friday, April 6, was the deadline for the Secretary of State to deliver ballots to military voters out of jurisdiction and overseas citizens voting by absentee ballot. According to a letter from the Secretary of State’s office to Gray filed with the court, the Voter ID law “directly affects the instructions to be delivered to some of those voters concerning requirements for returning their ballots.” The plaintiffs dispute that this timing represents a significant problem. In any case, with no ruling from Gray, the Secretary of State’s office moved ahead as normal with the task yesterday.
In a letter to the Secretary of State’s counsel, also filed with the court, Gray reminded him that Martin objected to setting an expedited hearing on March 8. “Your client apparently wanted to conduct the hearing at some point later than March 12, 2018, which would have further compressed the amount of time the Court would have had to make a decision … .” Gray held the hearing March 12. She noted that the record of it prepared by the court reporter consists of 1,000 pages of testimony and exhibits. Gray said she’d spent each day since the hearing reviewing the testimony and documentary evidence.
At that time, she said that she expected to rule several days prior to April 6. After Martin’s motion to the Supreme Court, attorney David Couch filed a response on behalf of Gray, arguing that the secretary of state could have requested an expedited hearing as soon as it was served with the lawsuit on Feb. 8, and that in any case the April 6 deadline isn’t relevant to the matter at hand.
When no ruling from Gray came yesterday, Couch speculated that Martin’s shenanigans may have led to a delay. He told the D-G, “The action at the Supreme Court distracted her and she had to deal with that. It may have delayed her.” Heh.