The Arkansas Supreme Court said Monday it will give expedited consideration to appeals involving disputes over the qualifications of judicial candidates.
The cases revolve around the question of whether an automatic, administrative suspension within the past six years disqualifies a candidate for a circuit judge position. Amendment 80 to the Arkansas Constitution states that a circuit judge must have been a licensed attorney in the state for six years immediately before taking office.
The appellants in the four cases are:
— Lawyer Valerie Thompson Bailey of Little Rock, who was disqualified by special appointed judge John Cole from challenging the re-election bid of Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox because of a suspension.
— Voter John Kelly of North Little Rock, whose challenge to the qualifications of Fox to seek re-election over a suspension was rejected by special appointed Judge Sam Bird.
— Leslie Steen, the clerk of the Supreme Court, who is appealing two rulings in which Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen found that a Supreme Court rule requiring the automatic suspension of a lawyer or judge who is late in paying state license fees is unconstitutional because it violates due-process rights.
The Supreme Court set a Friday deadline for all parties to submit briefs. Justices Karen Baker, Paul Danielson and Courtney Goodson have recused.
In another case involving the state Supreme Court, the state Board of Election Commissioners and the state Republican party both asked the court for an emergency stay of a circuit judge’s ruling that Arkansas’ voter ID law is unconstitutional.
Last week Fox ruled that Act 595 of 2013, which took effect Jan. 1 and requires voters to show photo ID at the polls, is unconstitutional because it imposes qualifications for voters that go beyond the qualifications set forth in the Arkansas Constitution and it unduly impairs their right to vote.
Fox issued the ruling in a lawsuit by the Pulaski County Election Commission that alleged the Board of Election Commissioners exceeded its authority when it adopted a rule on how absentee ballots should be treated under the law. On Monday, Assistant Attorney General David Curran filed a petition on behalf of the Board of Election Commissioners asking the Supreme Court to stay Fox’s ruling and allow the law to remain in effect.
The board argued that the commission is not likely to succeed on the merits of the case, in part because Fox issued the ruling in a lawsuit that did not challenge the constitutionality of Act 595.
Also, "a large majority of appellate courts to consider identical issues have upheld voter ID laws — including in cases raising claims under ‘additional qualifications’ and ‘impairment’ provisions contained in state constitutions," the board argued.
The board asked the court to give the case expedited consideration if it will not issue a stay, noting that the primary and nonpartisan election is May 20 and early voting starts next Monday.
The state Republican Party, an intervenor in the case, also filed a petition seeking a stay.
The Pulaski County Election Commission did not file a response to the petitions Monday.