As promised, Little Rock lawyer David Couch today sued Attorney General Leslie Rutledge for her refusal to certify a proposed initiated act to increase the minimum wage in Arkansas. He also asked for the Supreme Court to expedite a hearing because time is drawing short for a petition drive to gather signatures by July to qualify for the November ballot. The proposal must be published by June 6 for signatures to be gathered.

Couch wants the court to order Rutledge to approve the proposal or propose corrected language within three days.


Couch argues that the Constitution vests in the people the power to propose constitutional amendments and, by statute, the attorney general must certify or offer corrections to a proposal for voters. Rutledge has refused more than five dozen proposed amendments and not approved a single one, finding big and small problems with all of them. She has argued the deficiencies are too great for her to propose a solution. The statute gives petitioners an avenue of appeal to the Supreme Court when the attorney general rejects a proposal.

Couch’s minimum wage proposal is identical to a proposal certified for the ballot in 2014 and approved by voters, except that it raises the minimum wage from the current $8.50. It would move the rate to $9.25 and, over a period of years, to $12 per hour. After Rutledge rejected an initial draft, Couch made changes to comply with Rutledge’s criticism. She rejected it again.


Here’s his complaint.

Editorial: We no longer have a three-part government if the attorney general, de facto, becomes the sole arbiter on which initiatives qualify for the ballot. Her refusals have affected minimum wage, marijuana and gambling proposals, among others.


PS: A politically astute reader wonders if there’s a method to Rutledge’s opposition to populist ballot initiatives. Minimum wage, gambling and marijuana could encourage votes from people not ordinarily engaged in other elections. Is opposition to ballot initiatives just another outgrowth of general Republican vote suppression efforts such as Voter ID that Rutledge has worked to promote? Food for thought.

UPDATE: Late in the day Rutledge issued a statement that more or less blamed the law, rather than herself for blockade of worthy popular amendments.

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today calls on the General Assembly to fix the initiative (and referenda) process.

“Today, I call on the General Assembly to fix the process by which a citizen can place an initiative to amend the Arkansas Constitution on the election ballot. Citizens should know very early in the process whether the Arkansas Supreme Court approves of the language of their proposal, prior to their spending significant amounts of time and money collecting signatures and educating voters on the issue. I am dedicated to working with the General Assembly to create such a system and will continue looking out for the best interests of all Arkansans to ensure the process is clear and fair.

“Under current state law, I am required as Attorney General to review proposed initiatives to ensure they are not misleading. In determining whether a proposal is misleading, I must follow the very strict standard set forth by the Arkansas Supreme Court in the Lange and Wilson cases from 2016. These Supreme Court decisions require that it be clear to Arkansans what a ‘for’ or ‘against’ vote means.

“Only proposals that I am confident meet the Supreme Court’s stringent test are approved. After I approve the language, citizens must spend a great amount of time and money gathering the required number of signatures to have their proposal placed on the election ballot by the Secretary of State. At this point, opponents of the proposal can ask the Arkansas Supreme Court to strike it down. In its review the Court does not consider my initial approval of the proposal, but instead takes a completely new look at the language. Because such challenges occur very close to the election, proposals rejected by the Arkansas Supreme Court often still appear on the election ballot, adding further confusion for Arkansas voters.

“This is not the best process for Arkansans. Citizens who want to place an initiative on the ballot should not be required to get the language approved by both the Attorney General and the Arkansas Supreme Court. The process for citizens to have initiative language approved should have clear standards and deadlines. Therefore, I call on the General Assembly to create a system during the 2019 legislative session to ensure Arkansans have a clear and fair process to have an initiative to amend the State Constitution placed on the ballot.”

EDITORIAL: I call B.S. on Rutledge’s blame-shifting. It is nonsense to say it it’s not clear that a vote for an increase in the minimum wage is vote for an increase in the minimum wage. She has the power to improve proposals that she thinks are unclear. She won’t do it. We could hope the Supreme Court would correct her speedily, but the court hasn’t offered much support to the people of late.