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State of Arkansas

Judicial Selection in the States: Arkansas

Overview

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A constitutional amendment discussed here and here to give Delaware s governor and senate more time to consider judicial nominations cleared its final hurdle. With...

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A plan discussed here to create publicly funded public forums to hear from candidates for Montana s non-partisan Supreme Court races is dead for the...

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A constitutional amendment discussed here to give Delaware s governor and senate more time to consider judicial nominations cleared the Senate last week. With House...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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In the November 2000 elections, Arkansas voters adopted a new judicial article, known as Amendment 80. The new article called, in part, for consolidation of Arkansas’ law and equity courts. The Arkansas judiciary now has four levels: the supreme court, the court of appeals, the circuit courts, and the district courts. The circuit courts are general jurisdiction trial courts, and the district courts are trial courts of limited jurisdiction.

The new article also provided for nonpartisan election of judges. Prior to Amendment 80, judicial candidates ran in partisan primaries and were identified on the general election ballot as members of political parties. This reform was over thirty years in the making. Since 1970, advocates of judicial reform in Arkansas had urged the legislature to alter its system of selecting judges. Many of these groups favored merit selection of appellate court judges and nonpartisan election of trial court judges. However, merit selection encountered widespread opposition–from judges and ex-judges who sincerely believed in judicial elections, from legislators, and from members of the media who felt that merit selection was a conspiracy of the legal profession against the public. Amendment 80 forged a compromise, providing that judges would be selected on nonpartisan ballots and that the legislature could refer the issue of merit selection of appellate judges to the voters at any general election.