CHIEF JUSTICE KEMP: Orders shots for court workers.

Constitutional crisis?

The Arkansas Supreme Court today issued an order that most court workers and coming jurors be immediately declared eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations.

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Governor Hutchinson says they are not eligible yet.

Now we see how the order, signed by Chief Justice Dan Kemp, is to be enforced.

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Here’s the court’s per curiam order.

Suspension of jury trials has continued for months and a backlog of cases is growing. The order says:

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Despite the pandemic, attorneys, circuit clerks, district courts, circuit courts, and staff engage daily with numerous members of the public to protect these citizens’ constitutional rights. These essential justice-system workers have placed themselves in harm’s way for nearly a year, with severe consequences. The Governor of the State of Arkansas carefully implemented a vaccination plan for the State and for essential workers in the legislative and executive branches of government. It is the duty of this court to define the essential workers within the justice system and where each should be placed in the priority schedule. This court, through the ChiefJustice and senior staff has received updates from the Governor’s Office and the Arkansas Department of Health throughout the pandemic as we addressed concerns unique to our branch of government. This week the Governor expanded vaccine eligibility to include more essential workers [food processing workers]. The Department of Homeland Security identified state-court judges and staff as essential critical infrastructure workers.

The Arkansas Supreme Court, after careful review, has categorized the following as essential workers in Phase 1-B and orders them eligible for the vaccine immediately. We will add others as we monitor the Governor’s statewide rollout.

 

Circuit court judges with criminal dockets along with their trial-court assistants, court reporters, and other judicial staff.

 

Circuit court judges with juvenile dockets along with their trial-court assistants, court reporters, and other judicial staff including juvenile officers;

 

District court judges, district court clerks, and their staff

 

Clerk of the Supreme Court and staff;

 

Court-employed security officers;

 

AII circuit and county clerks and their staff;

 

Administrative Office of the Courts staff who have regular contact with the public or other branches of government;

 

Prosecuting attorneys, deputy prosecuting attorneys, and all public defender and their respective staff

 

Attorneys with in-person appearances pending in the criminal division or juvenile division of circuit court; and

 

Jury panel members slated to begin serving after April 30, 2021.

The governor issued this statement in response:

“I appreciate the Supreme Court’s concern for judges and staff members of the court system and for attorneys whose cases require them to work in person at a court house. Our schedule for vaccinations takes into account the needs and risk level for all Arkansans, and this group is not yet eligible in the 1B phase. As our allocation of vaccine increases, we will be able to move more quickly, but currently, court employees who don’t otherwise qualify for a shot will have to wait for their eligibility.”

Kemp’s order mentions a plan for vaccinations for essential workers in the legislative and executive branch. This is what the Health Department website says about who’s currently eligible for vaccinations:

Who’s getting the vaccine now?

Phase 1-B has started, which means vaccinations are happening now for Arkansans who are 65 or older as well as those who work in education including K-12, child care and higher ed. Vaccinations are also now available for those who work in food manufacturing. Vaccinations can also continue for groups in Phase 1-A, including health care workers, residents and staff at long-term care facilities and these high priority groups: EMS, fire and law enforcement who serve as first responders, primary care, urgent care, college/university student health center, K-12 health clinics and school nurses, dental clinics, pharmacies, home health, private care/personal care, hospice care, dialysis centers, correctional staff involved in patient care and transfer, morticians/funeral home staff involved in direct contact or conducting transports and blood donation centers.

Who’s getting the vaccine next?

As supply increases in the coming weeks, the groups eligible to receive vaccine under Phase 1-B will expand. Later, we will move into Phase 1-C.

Government workers are among the essential workers listed in 1-B, but not currently identified as among those eligible.

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A statement from the governor confirms my reading:

“State employees and legislative employees are essential, but they’re not being vaccinated because we have not moved to and authorized that category of 1-B.”