by Max Brantley
Judicial elections are more than 10 months away. The filing period doesn't begin until March.
But the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce isn't letting any grass grow. It has made it clear who the state's corporate overlords want to see elected to the Arkansas Supreme Court to fill a vacant seat currently held by appointee Cliff Hoofman. That would be Republican Rhonda Wood,. as the heading of a news release shown above graphically illustrates. (I mention party linkage because, though judges run in nonpartisan races, Wood has made every effort throughout her judicial career from circuit judge to her current Court of Appeals seat to brand herself as a Republican, perceiving it as politically expedient as well as an accurate.)
Party matters are rarely an issue before the court, but party identification silenty signals sympathy for rigid GOP dogma. That party view happens to generally fit with dogma of the State Chamber of Commerce, beginning with the notion that injured people should have limited ability to sue corporations for damages in the courts (the chamber would prefer no such ability, but constitutional limits prevent the ultimate solution for the time being).
What did Rhonda Wood say or do that inspires such confidence from the Chamber before the ballot has even opened to other candidates, much less closed? Did she signal warmth toward the punitive proposed constitutional amendment the chamber tried to jam onto the 2014 ballot to make damage suits difficult? It was beaten back by legislative trickery promoted by Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, who happened to be on the right side of an issue for once, if only because he's in the pocket of a wealthy trial lawyer.
Here's the chamber's pitch:
“We believe that Judge Wood’s judicial philosophy is fair, consistent and rooted in the rule of law,” stated Randy Zook, president & CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce. “Businesses across Arkansas would benefit from the experience and judicial temperament that Judge Wood would bring to the Supreme Court. We look forward to supporting her candidacy and helping ensure her election as one of the next justices on the Arkansas Supreme Court.”
When someone starts talking rule of law, you can bet they mean "rule like we think the law means."
They say early money is like yeast. The heavy hand played here also could be expected to discourage challengers. The judge will be eternally grateful, no doubt. And inevitably return the favor, but only as the rule of law demands.