The Arkansas Supreme Court is not the oldest state court in the land, but it does have a rich and storied past. It is the court of last resort for appeals heard in the state of Arkansas. There is no higher court within the judicial system for the state, other than an appeal taken to the federal level at the Supreme Court of the United States. Whether you’re a law student preparing for a career in the judicial system or a resident of Arkansas with an interest in how the judicial system works, the Arkansas Supreme Court offers educational materials to help its population understand the inner workings of the system. Here are twenty things that you probably didn’t know about the Arkansas Supreme Court to enhance your knowledge.
1. The Supreme Court of Arkansas is approaching its 200th birthday
Ballotpedia reports that the Arkansas Supreme Court became operational in 1836. It has existed for 186 years as of the year 2022. It serves as the court of last resort for appeals in the state of Arkansas.
2. The Arkansas Supreme Court has seven judgeships
Each state-level Supreme Court determines the number of justice seats on the bench of the court. The numbers of judgeships vary from one state to another. Arkansas maintains seven judgeships. Dan Kemp serves as the current Chief of the Court.
3. The Arkansas Supreme Court populates its seats through election
The Arkansas Supreme Court judgeships are determined by a vote of the people via nonpartisan elections. The elections occur when a term is up for a seat, and the outgoing justice has the option to run for re-election if still eligible to fill the position. All seven judges on the panel obtained their seats through the election process as of August of 2021. The selection for justices occurs from the State at large with any otherwise qualified candidate with state residency qualifying for candidacy for an available seat.
4. The Arkansas Supreme Court must have a majority vote to make a decision
Without exception, the laws of Arkansas mandate that an Arkansas Supreme Court decision must have the concurrence of a minimum of four justices to render a decision on any case heard. The majority votes carry the day on some of the most significant court cases up for appeals through the court of last resort. The Arkansas Supreme Court has statewide appellate jurisdiction as the court of last resort for appeals cases.
5. The Chief Justice is determined through the same process as justices
Each state determines how the Chief Justice for its Supreme Court is selected. Some judges get appointed. Others get voted on by a group of peers. The Arkansas Constitution requires the Chief Justice selection through the nonpartisan election process. Should a Chief Justice vacate the seats, whether temporarily or otherwise, the remaining justices on the court decide which among their peers will occupy the seat in the capacity of acting Chief Justice.
6. Candidates for judgeships on the Arkansas Supreme Court must meet minimum qualifications
The qualification for candidacy for a seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court is more relaxed than in most other states in the Union. The incumbents must be at least 30 years of age. They must have a reputation that confirms they are of good moral character. Each candidate must be “learned the law.” This stipulation is a loose requirement that does not stipulate what the term “learned in the law” means, but we assume they will have a law degree. Each candidate must be a citizen of the United States and reside in Arkansas for a minimum of two years. Candidates must also be legal practitioners in some capacity for a minimum of eight years. Unlike some other states, Arkansas does not utilize commissions for judicial nomination for selecting or screening potential candidates.
7. The governor may fill vacancies via appointment
The Constitution of Arkansas makes provision for governor appointments if a seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court occurs during a term. If a justice leaves the post before the term expires, the governor may use discretion to appoint a qualified interim judge to fill the position. The appointee serves until the next general election if it occurs four months or more after the vacancy occurs.
8. Judges serve eight-year terms
Supreme Court Justices in the State of Arkansas are elected for eight-year terms. Each state sets the length of the terms for Supreme Court judgeships. Some range from four to twelve-year terms. When a judge occupies a seat through appointment, that justice may not run to succeed themselves in the upcoming election.
9. Three seats are up for election in 2022
The Arkansas Supreme Court anticipates three expired terms as of December 31, 2022. Elections to fill the seats are set to occur on May 24, 2022, through a nonpartisan election. The judges with expiring terms for the upcoming year include Robin Wynne, Rhonda Wood, and Karen R. Baker. The three candidates have the option of standing for re-election or retirement.
10. 2020 was a lean year for the Arkansas Supreme Court
Statistics show that each state heard fewer appeals cases in the year 2020. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic significantly affected the legal processes in the judicial system. A summary of the cases reveals that the panel of Supreme Court justices for Arkansas reviewed 257 cases, which is 167 more than the state of Texas.143 of the cases were decided with a unanimous ruling for 55.6 percent of all cases. Justice Dan Kemp wrote the majority opinion the most often with 35 cases. Fifty-four per curiam decisions occurred with 30 concurring opinions. The justice with the most concurring opinions was Josephine Hart with 18. The justice with the most dissenting opinions was also Josephine Hart with 76, with a total of 97 dissenting opinions for the group.
11. The Arkansas Supreme Court is predominantly Republican
Although the election processes are nonpartisan, the current configuration of the Arkansas Supreme Court is heavily weighted toward Republican control with a balanced score of 3.57. Arkansas joins the other s7 states in the Union with Republican-controlled Courts. Fifteen states have Democrat-controlled courts and 8 of the states have Split courts. Some of the courts are indeterminate which means that it’s impossible to assess the partisan control of the court’s system for various reasons.
12. The Arkansas Supreme Court is among the most liberal
A Bonica and Woodruff study from politician science professors Adam Bonica and Michael Woodruff, both Stanford University professors, tried to determine the outlook of partisanship for each supreme court justice in the nation. They wrote a paper titled “state Supreme court Ideology and ‘New Style’ Judicial Campaigns. The findings of their research and studies showed that of all state supreme courts, Arkansas came in as the ninth most liberal. The study was based on information obtained from campaign contributions received by the judges, who contributed, and their political ideologies.
13. The Arkansas Supreme Court has evolved over the years
AR Courts confirms that Arkansas was admitted into the Union in 1836 as the 25th state. The process for filling the seats in the newly formed Supreme Court was different than it is today. The original Constitution of the state required that a supreme court be established with one Chief Justice and the remaining two judges chosen through election by the Arkansas General Assembly. Daniel Ringo, Thomas J. Lacy, and Townsend Dickerson were the first three justices to sit on the Arkansas Supreme Court. Ringo occupied the seat of Chief Justice.
14. The number of judges increased in 1874
The Arkansas current state Constitution was ratified in the year 1874. It stipulated that the number of judges on the supreme court would increase from three to five, but there were conditions attached to the decision. It was conditional upon the state of Arkansas achieving a residential population of at least one million persons. Act 19, passed in 1889, confirmed the need to increase the number of seats on the supreme court to five. Another increase occurred in 1924, as the population continued to grow. The General Assembly increased the number of seats from five to seven, the current number of justices on the panel for the Arkansas Supreme Court. Terms for the seven justice panel commenced on January 1, 1927.
15. The Arkansas Supreme Court acts as state superintendent
The Arkansas Supreme Court received a boost in power through a rewriting of the Arkansas Constitution, Amendment 80, effective July of 2001. The amendment granted the Supreme Court of Arkansas general superintending control over all of the courts in the state. Further, the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over statewide appellate cases within the judicial system. Any case is subject to a transfer or reassignment to the Arkansas Supreme Court. The Arkansas Supreme Court was granted the power to make rules regulating law practice and professional conduct of attorneys at law through Constitutional amendment 28, adopted in the year 1938.
16. the Arkansas Supreme Court may strike down the governor
Wikipedia reports that the Arkansas Supreme Court has the power to review gubernatorial directives to discover if they violate the statutory law or the Constitution. If they are found to be in violation, according to the letter of the law, the court may rule to strike down the directives, nullifying them, therefore, releasing residents of the State of Arkansas from the duty of fulfillment or compliance. The Supreme Court for Arkansas may only act within cases for which it has jurisdiction.
17. The Arkansas Supreme Court maintains continuity
The Supreme Court of Arkansas structures its elections and seat durations to ensure that there is consistency and continuity among the justices. The seat terms and expiration dates are staggered to ensure that they do not all expire at the same time. This helps to retain experienced justices on the panel at any given time. For example, in 2022, just three of the seven seats are set to expire.
18. The Justices have similar educational backgrounds
All of the Justices for the Arkansas Supreme Court currently serving received their education from similar law schools Dan Kemp, Robin Wynne, Courtney Hudson, Barbara Womack Webb, and Shawn Womack received their degrees from the Arkansas Law School. Karen Baker and Rhonda Wood were educated at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Every justice received their law degree in their home state.
19. The Supreme Court of Arkansas is mostly older judges
Most of the seats on the Arkansas Supreme Court are filled by older judges. Although candidates for the job may be as young as 30 years, none of them fall into that category. The oldest is Dan Kemp age 70. Robin Wynn in 69. Barbara Womack Webb is 65. Karen Baker is between 60 to 61 years old. Rhonda Wood is 52 years old. Shawn Womack is 49 years old. Courtney Hudson is 49 years old.
20. The Arkansas Supreme Court has heard notable cases
The encyclopedia of Arkansas reports that the Supreme Court of Arkansas made a ruling in 1929 that involved the Democratic Party. They ruled it to be a private organization with the power to make its own rules about membership requirements to the party. the organization went forth to hold white-only primaries through the 1940s. In 1942, the Lynch v Hammock case involved a doctor from Tennessee working at the Rohwer Relocation Center. It was a Japanese American internment camp. The doctor did not have a license to practice in Arkansas, but the court ruled that it did not have jurisdiction to prevent the physician from working in the state. The grounds for the decision were that he worked on federal property. Although camp officials protested the ruling, the court refused to overturn the original ruling. The court has heard notable cases throughout its history.