The Arkansas Supreme Court got Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s attention at last today with its order that she comply with the law and either certify proposed ballot initiatives or propose language more acceptable to her.
She blames the law and Supreme Court for her refusal to certify any of 70 proposals submitted for her review since 2016, including a minimum wage increase IDENTICAL to law put on the ballot and approved by voters previously,

Her announcement:


Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has announced that in light of the Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision today in Couch v. Rutledge, she is certifying ballot titles for proposals to raise the minimum wage, authorize casino gaming, and revise the legislative redistricting process. Attorney General Rutledge is rejecting a proposal that would legalize marijuana because of insufficiencies and fundamental flaws in the text of the measure.

“I have issued opinions on ballot proposals based on standards set forth in statutes as well as case law of the Arkansas Supreme Court,” said Rutledge. “However, the Arkansas Supreme Court has once again muddied the waters on these standards by offering no insight in its decision requiring me to certify or substitute language of a ballot title that I had previously rejected. In light of the Arkansas Supreme Court’s failure to put forth clear standards, I am certifying these proposals in an exercise of caution to ensure Arkansans are given an opportunity to put these measures on the ballot.”

“To be clear, today’s certifications do not prevent a citizen from legally challenging a ballot proposal once the required number of signatures are submitted to the Arkansas Secretary of State. Therefore, it is a real possibility that any one or all of the certified proposals will not appear on the ballot in November.”

“The Arkansas Supreme Court’s failure to include clear standards and reasoning has only exacerbated the confusion surrounding ballot title submissions. As I stated last week, I am calling on the General Assembly to create a system ensuring Arkansans have a clear and fair process to amend the constitution and place initiatives on the ballot.”

This will allow backers of three proposals to publish their proposals and begin the petition process, with hopes of achieving signatures by July 6, no easy task. And Rutledge is correct. People still could ask the Supreme Court to review if the language meets clarity standards. But as it was Rutledge had set herself up as sole authority on reaching the ballot, effectively negating the constitutional right to petition.

The issues:


* REDISTRICTING: Little Rock lawyer David Couch drew up the proposal to provide for a constitutional amendment to have an appointed redistricting commission, with some members free of partisan connecting, to do legislative redistricting after the Census every 10 years. Other states have experimented with similar ideas to curb partisan gerrymandering. It’s good government. Republicans like Rutledge oppose the idea now that they control the legislature.

* CASINOS: This proposal, which appears to have direct or tacit support from the existing racetrack casinos in Arkansas, would solidify the Oaklawn and Southland casino and authorize two new casinos in Jefferson and Pope County. The Cherokee Indian tribe and Quapaw tribe are backing this idea. Tax revenues would go to highways.


UPDATE: Rutledge actually signed off on TWO casino proposals today. One approval concerns an earlier proposal, which I think is now dead, that called for four new casinos in four counties, a proposal that I believe was superseded by the narrower expansion. But that should become clearer soon.

* MINIMUM WAGE: This is another proposal or an initiated act written by Couch that would lift the $8.50 an hour minimum to $12 in stages, finishing in 2022.

Is there muscle for the redistricting proposal to get more than 80,000 signatures by July 6? Don’t know. A number of good government groups will likely coalesce on the wage proposal, as they did on the earlier measure. Casinos? Oh, yeah. There’s money behind that, though paid canvassing is now more difficult thanks to legislation aimed at discouraging it. Special interests prefer to control ballot initiatives by telling the legislature which to put on the ballot. This year, for example, nursing homes and the chamber of commerce made the legislature propose an amendment to strip the Supreme Court of rule-making authority and place such low limits on lawsuit damage awards and attorney fees as to discourage most lawsuits over nursing home negligence, medical malpractice and other corporate misdeeds.

Rutledge has been rankly partisan in serving special interests by imposing a ballot blockade unlike anything ever seen before. The Supreme Court was always there to be the final arbiter, but she didn’t want to risk it. Her hand was called today by five members of the Supreme Court (not Republican sympathizers Rhonda Wood and Shawn Womack.) Students of politics and backers of good government should remember her for this and her attempt at blame-shifting, but, alas, this is Arkansas. We love Donald Trump. Facts are no longer relevant.


The backer of a marijuana legalization amendment still currently has a day set in circuit court next week on his effort to force Rutledge to approve wording of his amendment.

Here’s her explanation of rejection of that proposal.