Circuit Judge Morgan “Chip” Welch has made official his candidacy for Arkansas Supreme Court for the seast currently held by Justice Josephine Linker Hart.
To date, Hart has refused to say if she plans to retire at the end of this term. She turns 76 in November and thus if elected to another term after turning 70 she’d have to forfeit any future retirement or disability benefits.
No one else has announced yet. Rumors have circulated that Hart has been holding off an announcement to help a potential last-minute candidacy by her long-time family friend and former law clerk, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. Rutledge, too, has refused to respond to questions about a candidacy.
Meanwhile, Welch has decided to forge ahead, though he’s made clear his candidacy wasn’t contemplated on account of dissatisfaction with Hart, but rather with the expectation the seat will be open.
Welch set up an exploratory committee six weeks ago. He said in a news release:
The Arkansans I’ve talked to want to keep the Supreme Court independent, non partisan and fair to everyone just like our state constitution provides. So today I’m announcing my non partisan candidacy for Position 4 on the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Though he didn’t say so specifically, Republican dark money has played a major role in recent races for state Supreme Court and several candidates for the court, though running on a non-partisan basis, have focused campaign outreach on Republican organizations and used buzzwords intended to signal Republican voters.
If Rutledge or a similar conservative Republican should surface for a race against Welch, they can do so confident that the dark money would flood in. Welch, in his second term as judge (not first as I wrote in error originally), has represented a broad spectrum of clients in his years in private practice, but has been a leader of the Trial Lawyers Association, an organization generally on the other side of dark money Republican groups.
It will be interesting to see should Rutledge run. She’s espoused her gun-toting, anti-abortion, anti-Obamacare anti-gay-rights, pro-death penalty, anti-environmental regulation, Christian point of view tirelessly in-state and, significantly, in elective legal actions all over the country. Could she be viewed as impartial on these many issues as a Supreme Court justice? Could she sit on a case involving Wendell Griffen, to name one, whom she’s tried to neuter judicially?