Judges in Arkansas are NOT elected on a partisan basis, but you couldn’t tell it by recent events. (I inadvertently left the NOT out originally.)
Current Justices Rhonda Wood and Barbara Webb, wife of the former Arkansas GOP chairman, both mounted overtly Republican campaigns, with endorsement from Republican politicians and campaigns tailored to Republican county meetings. Justice Shawn Womack is a former Republican senator who seems to spend as much time working the Republican-majority legislature as he does judging.
And here we go again. Three Supreme Court seats are on the ballot next year: Those of Justices Robin Wynne, Rhonda Wood and Karen Baker.
Here’s the first Republican preparing to make a race and in the now customary manner, with a letter announcing his potential candidacy not to the people of Arkansas but the Republican State Committee.
He’s a former director of the Arkansas Republican Party who’s had appointments to judgeships courtesy of the Republican governor and has already made appearances at GOP committee meetings.
Position 2 is held by Robin Wynne, 68. He hasn’t announced whether he’ll seek re-election. He’s a former Democratic state representative, it so happens.
The Republican Party led the push, eventually joined by Democrats, to elect judges on a nonpartisan basis. The GOP was in the minority then and the mostly Democratic judges paid fat filing fees to the Democratic Party.
Now that roles are reversed, Republicans prefer partisan elections, if not by law in fact. Pending legislation would make municipal elections partisan in Arkansas, but municipal opposition has slowed that. Also pending is a proposed constitutional amendment to return judicial elections to partisan races.
The reason is simple: The GOP brand is viewed as golden and they want their ideological stamp put firmly on the judiciary, which is exactly why it is a terrible idea. Rep. Clint Penzo, in arguing for partisan city elections, said it right out in the open during committee debate. He said his constituents want to know if “the person at the ballot is conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat.”
Arkansas Republican judicial candidates already have that down to a science: They are strict followers of the Constitution, particularly that 2nd amendment, and don’t believe in legislating from the bench, unless it is to overturn liberal law-making. Family values? They are for them. And so on.
Should Carnahan win, the Supreme Court would have four rock-ribbed Republicans on the seven-member court, including one whose husband is paid $150,000 a year by the attorney general of Arkansas, a frequent Supreme Court litigant. Democratic Party chances on challenges of Republican vote suppression tactics? You tell me.