More Talk of Ending AR Judicial Elections; Justice at Stake Cited

Gov. Hutchinson
Gov. Hutchinson

“Dark money” was “regrettably” a winner in the Arkansas Supreme Court election this week, Gov. Asa Hutchinson lamented afterward, as he said he would likely support an effort next year to move from judicial elections to a merit-based appointive system in the state.

Articles by the Associated Press and Arkansas Online about Hutchinson’s remarks also cited Justice at Stake, which tracked TV ad spending in the election and reported that it broke a prior state record (see Gavel Grab).

The two candidates who were targeted by out-of-state groups with critical advertising lost on Tuesday. When asked about options to address spending in judicial elections by “dark money” groups permitted to conceal their donors, Hutchinson, a Republican, said they are protected under court decisions and “I think a better direction to go would be to change the Arkansas way of selecting our judges.”

The AP quoted JAS Executive Director Susan Liss as saying about the high court election, “The high spending, out-of-state money and harsh attack ads we’ve seen in this year’s Arkansas Supreme Court race make it the latest example of some of the worst trends in judicial elections across the U.S.”

Josh Silverstein, a law professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, told Arkansas Online about surging spending in judicial elections and the advantages of a merit selection method. The article summed up his views this way:

“Silverstein said there are volumes of studies and data to show that judges’ rulings can be affected by campaign contributions or the looming thought of an election. By using a selection method, the bench can be partially insulated from outside pressure and be more empowered to rule on the merits and the law.”