Here’s another stinker in the legislative bill dumpster, SB 390 by Sen. Bob Ballinger to abolish the legislatively created Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission and leave it to the Arkansas Supreme Court to restructure it under its sole control.

Terrible idea. It would eliminate any semblance of independence for the commission, whose members include appointees of the Supreme Court and other constitutional officers. Put the Supreme Court in charge of ethics complaints against its own members (there have been some)? Not a good look.

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It’s the work of Supreme Court Justice Shawn Womack, who can’t stop trying to continue his previous role as a Republican senator in influencing legislation.

Ballinger said he was motivated by an opinion Womack wrote earlier this month (similar to an opinion he’d expressed in an earlier case) that Amendment 80, the judicial powers amendment of 2000, made unconstitutional the discipline process established in Amendment 66 of 1988. Amendment 80 said it didn’t repeal other parts of the constitution except in cases of irreconcilable conflict.  Womack believes that conflict exists and the Supreme Court should create a new structure.

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None of the other six members of the Supreme Court joined Womack in his Feb. 11 opinion and Ballinger indicated he hadn’t talked with any other members of the court. He said he was inspired only by Womack’s opinion.

Ballinger’s bill would continue the existing staffing of the commission at its currently budgeted amount.

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There’s some speculation that this is power-base building by Womack, who’s believed interested in running for chief justice in 2024. Chief Justice Dan Kemp isn’t likely to seek re-election because he’ll be older than 70 in 2024 and would have to forfeit retirement benefits should he be elected again.

UPDATE: The district judges association and the Judicial Council, all the circuit judges, have voted to oppose this legislation.

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