The Arkansas Supreme Court waited until 5:10 p.m. Friday to dump a three-sentence document that brought an ignominious end to its ignoble handling of the lawsuit that challenged the Arkansas ban on same-sex marriage.
More than 13 months after it first put its hands on the case through a hurry-up stay orchestrated by Justice Karen Baker of Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza’s marriage equality ruling, the Arkansas Supreme Court still had not decided the case. And it never will. The U.S. Supreme Court’s historic 5-4 ruling for a right to same-sex marriage made the Arkansas case moot, said the terse unsigned announcement.
Still to be decided is an ethics complaint against the Arkansas Supreme Court for its delay, a procedural morass that two justices, Chief Justice Jim Hannah and Justice Paul Danielson, have said was nothing but a pretext for delay.
Don’t be confused by the bureaucratic fog. Confidential sources provided an outline of the case that you can read fully in this week’s Arkansas Times. It’s simple:
Justices Karen Baker, Jo Hart, Courtney Goodson and, after she joined the court Jan. 1, Rhonda Wood stymied completion of this case. They also were prepared to vote against marriage equality rather than anger voters, who added the ban to the Arkansas Constitution in 2004, or Republican politicians. Cowardly strategic delay may not be an ethics violation, but it is no less despicable.
The case could have been decided. The Arkansas Supreme Court, then including Donald Corbin, who retired Jan. 1, and Special Justice Robert McCorkindale, sitting for the recused Cliff Hoofman, voted Oct. 9 not to delay the case and further voted Oct. 23 to EXPEDITE it. Nov. 20, the justices voted 5-2 to uphold Piazza. The opinion was never issued. Justice Hart demanded time to write a dissent. Goodson, who voted in the majority, wouldn’t release her opinion until Hart filed a dissent. She never did.
Compare this with federal District Judge Kristine Baker, who also heard oral arguments Nov. 20. Five days later, she issued a 45-page opinion striking down the ban.
Come Jan. 1, Corbin was succeeded by Robin Wynne and Hoofman’s seat was taken by Wood, a Republican partisan with strong ties to anti-marriage Republican politicians. She demanded that McCorkindale get off the case. That debate ate up weeks, ultimately decided in early May by a court packed by Republican special justices picked by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Seven weeks without a decision followed.
Goodson, my sources say, voted with Piazza in May but with Hart, Baker and Wood against Piazza in the final unreleased opinion. She appears to have connived from the beginning to control — and delay — an opinion until either the U.S. Supreme Court took her off the hook or the working majority changed.
Goodson, abetted by her husband, trial lawyer John Goodson, whose political activities include loose talk about court work and financial involvement in court races, plans to run for chief justice in 2016 on Jim Hannah’s expected retirement. Perhaps then she’ll talk about how she was for marriage equality before she was against it.
The future is bleak — a Supreme Court controlled by popular prejudice and corporate masters such as nursing home magnate Michael Morton, a heavy contributor to justices now running the court.
Should Goodson rise to chief, the Republican governor will be able to appoint someone cut from the same cloth to fill Goodson’s associate justice seat for two years. Also: Circuit Judge Shawn Womack, a former Republican senator, might rise without opposition to retiring Justice Danielson’s seat. He’s on record favoring RE-criminalizing homosexual acts and preventing gay couples from adopting children.
With Republican legislators encouraging resistance — on spurious religious grounds — to compliance with the rule of law, it’s hard to be optimistic about where the future Arkansas Supreme Court might come down should it be faced with a modern-day Orval Faubus who wishes to beat a Bible rather than uphold a constitutional duty to issue marriage licenses.
That is, if it ever ruled at all. `