With the "non-partisan" judicial elections now in our rearview mirror, I believe it's safe to say that it's time for change in how we go about electing judges in Arkansas. The two recent Supreme Court races saw over $1.6 MILLION in "dark money" flooding our airwaves, telling the citizens that they must elect Judge Dan Kemp and Judge Shawn Womack. (This number will surely rise as late arriving financial information is crunched) Congratulations to both of these men, and I hope they stand by their campaign messages, and emember that they are there for the citizens who elected them and not for shady corporate entities who slaughtered their opponents campaigns and reputations to get them there. Please understand that reasonable people are skeptical of this. When that much money is spent trashing a candidate for our state's highest court, what other message could be received other than to behave and rule as we want . . . or else.
But it's time to realize that with Citizens United, the toothpaste is out of the tube. The cows are out of the barn. Insert whatever cliche you want. Dark money will flow in from out of state (but lets not kid ourselves, a lot of it actually begins IN state, gets "laundered" by going to dark money outfits out of state, and then comes back) like sludge in every future judicial election. The attacks were so successful, that the groups behind them should feel nothing but emboldened about their ability to buy influence and judicial races here in Arkansas.
It's time to move to a process, with strict oversight and a fair methodology, to appoint the best and brightest to the bench in Arkansas. Even Governor Asa Hutchinson agrees. He called for a move to merit judicial selection in his own campaign post-mortem. Now, the devil is certainly in the details. If we truly want to eliminate millions of fraudulent campaign ads and the sale of our courts to big business, true independence, bi-partisan oversight, and input from both the plaintiff's and defense bar is key. But it's time to stop kidding ourselves that we can have any kind of fair election when the independent judicial election watchdog group, Justice at Stake, found the most recent judicial elections in Arkansas to contain the most vile ads and infested with record levels of outside, "dark" money. It's time to do something different. If corporate interests are dead set at influencing the game with their millions, with the intent of limiting your constitutionally protected 7th Amendment rights, it's time to change the game.
Stay tuned as I put forth my proposed merit selection plan in a few days.