Take note: The Republican Party is making moves nationwide, including n Arkansas, to extend one-party political control from the legislative and executive to the judicial branch.
The Associated Press reports here on efforts in Iowa and other states to put judicial nomination procedures under partisan political control. The idea is to get rid of those darn liberal judges. The argument against political activism rings a little hollow when it produces judges who’ll ratify anything passed by a Republican legislature, constitution be damned.
The desire is greater political control of the courts, an affront to checks and balances. But authoritarianism is in vogue these days, White House down.
The idea on the table is an even more direct partisan judicial coup. Where Iowa’s takeover involves letting partisan politicians comprise the commissions that nominate judges, a proposal in Arkansas would return the state to partisan judicial elections. It’s a constitutional amendment proposed by Rep. Robin Lundstrum. I’d like to put this down as Crazy Caucus stuff, with joint sponsorship by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, but you just never know.
In a state where the letter “R” is sufficient to elect any candidate for statewide office, the presumption is that it would do the same at the Supreme Court level if races were partisan and in many circuit and Court of Appeals races as well. Pulaski County might elect some Democrats, but Sen. Trent Garner has already legislated legal forum shopping to avoid hearing state government-related cases in Pulaski County. And Rep. Mary Bentley of Perryville has a shell constitutional amendment to do something about the residency of circuit judges. This might hold some promise for influencing judgeships. She lives in Perry County, which is in a judicial district with Pulaski County.
PS: As I’ve mentioned many times before, the partisan takeover can be accomplished without structural changes. There are a growing number of judges on the bench in Arkansas who’ve associated with Republican politicians, campaigned at Republican committees and adopted dog-whistle campaign strategies (conservative judge; strict constructionist, etc.) to win judicial races. Big wads of cash from nursing home operators who want to discourage successful lawsuits over their negligence also have helped.