Comcast and the parent of KTVH, Channel 11 yesterday appealed Circuit Judge Chris Piazza’s ruling blocking the airing of TV ads critical of Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson, who’s in a runoff with David Sterling to hold onto her court seat. John Moritz reported in detail on the filing in this morning’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
The appeal was filed to the state Court of Appeals, but it asserts it’s a matter of Supreme Court jurisdiction, including because of constitutional questions. Wrote attorney John Tull:
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The question of whether a preliminary injunction silencing campaign speech is an unconstitutional prior restraint is an issue of first impression in Arkansas.
Answering this question requires interpretation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Other state and federal courts have held that preliminary injunctions prohibiting speech are unconstitutional. This question must be conclusively resolved in Arkansas.
This appeal is also on a matter of substantial public interest: the censorship of speech at the core of the First Amendment. The outcome of this appeal impacts the parties to this litigation, as Justice Goodson is currently in a run-off election scheduled to occur on November 6, 2018. But the impact is not limited to Justice Goodson’s present campaign. The Court’s decision will impact campaign speech in every future election in Arkansas.
Goodson clearly can’t consider the case if the Supreme Court does decide it. An interesting question is whether her colleagues on the court will stay on a case affecting a colleague. Could the case lead to the governor appointing seven special justices? Not a great way to establish an important precedent, it occurs to me.
A dark money group bought the ads, as it had done in contesting her race for chief justice two years ago. The ads mentioned gifts she’d received from her future husband before they married and also referred to pay raises the Supreme Court had sought.
Goodson sued to block the ads, which she deemed defamatory. She won before Piazza, but was unable to stop them in Northwest Arkansas on a claim heard by another court. The broadcast outlets argue that her lawsuit would unleash a flood of lawsuits aimed at silencing critical advertising.