Former Arkansas Supreme Court Justices Robert Brown and Annabelle Imber Tuck are scheduled to appear before the Legislative Council Friday morning to ask for approval of spending $200,000 from the state rainy day fund to produce a voters guide for candidates for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals in 2022 that would be mailed to all Arkansas households.
Brown says the idea is based on a North Carolina law. In North Carolina, the guide lists candidates in the order they appear on the ballot and uses information provided by the candidates.
Brown and Tuck will appear Friday as members of the Arkansas Judicial Campaign Conduct and Education Committee. It is a nonprofit founded in 2015 devoted to voter education.
Brown said his “current thinking” is to ask that the secretary of state’s office administer the program, not the nonprofit.
That is a good idea. I heard the idea was up for discussion Friday from a Republican, who indicates some suspicion and says legislators are expected to have questions.
Governor Hutchinson has approved the proposal, a spokesman said, but final approval from the legislature is required. You can add this to the list of items that has many Republican legislators unhappy with the governor.
Judicial races are nominally non-partisan. But the Republican Party has devised a judicial candidacy template that all but identifies candidates as Republicans. Justices Rhonda Wood, Shawn Womack and Barbara Webb are all partisan Republicans in practice and have made partisan connections well-known. Two other partisan Republicans, former legislator Gunner DeLay and former Republican Party director Chris Carnahan, have both announced for Supreme Court this year. They are challengers to incumbent Justices Karen Baker and Robin Wynne, respectively. They have followed the pattern of the generous use of Republican identifiers and dog-whistle statements about originalism, family values and the like. DeLay and Carnahan wins would give declared Republicans a five-member majority on the seven-member court.
Brown’s committee, in addition to compiling information about candidates, has criticized dark money spending in judicial races and has at times denounced specific dark money ads as inaccurate. It also once asked candidates to sign a pledge to adhere to the letter and spirit of the code of judicial conduct.
Republican candidates love dark money. A Republican PAC with shadowy sources of finance has been a major spender in recent Arkansas Supreme Court races.
Wynne benefitted from dark money spending (and it was decried by Brown’s committee) in a race against Tim Cullen in 2014. But his opponent this year, Chris Carnahan, in officially announcing his candidacy yesterday, issued the standard ignoble approval of dark money spending — everyone has a First Amendment right to speech, he said.
Originalist that he is, surely Carnahan has read the work of every conservative’s favorite justice, the late Antonin Scalia. He wrote that the First Amendment protects unlimited spending, but not anonymity in that spending (just as the Second Amendment doesn’t prohibit ALL regulation of guns). He wrote about a moral responsibility to stand behind the speech. Scalia might find some moral responsibility, then, for candidates to speak against scurrilous, anonymous attacks — even those that benefit them.
Don’t hold your breath.