Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Dan Kemp
today filed a one-sentence letter announcing his recusal from the lawsuit seeking to remove Issue One from the ballot. By Kemp's standard, Justice Shawn Womack
Update: Kemp has also recused from two challenges of a casino expansion amendment.
Issue One is the measure often known by the shorthand "tort reform." It's a sweeping alteration of the balance of power in Arkansas government. It transfers court rulemaking authority to the legislature from the Arkansas Supreme Court. It will abridge the right to jury trials for wrongs by putting caps on damages and attorney fees in such suits as medical malpractice and nursing home negligence and corporate negligence.
Kemp has said plainly that he opposes the portion of the measure changing authority for court rules. He did not express a position on the measure itself, but the court-weakening provision is key to the corporate lobbies backing the change. ALSO: I forgot to mention his daughter works for a law firm working for Issue One and he typically recuses from her cases.
Shawn Womack, as a Republican senator, carried water for the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce on past legislative efforts to achieve these same goals. He's not announced a position on the particular measure, but if a history of support for its parts should be reason
to question his impartiality. Indeed, he was elected with dark money help on this precise issue.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson will appoint a special justice to decide the case. The governor himself has resisted speaking directly on Issue One, though he's generally corporation-friendly. He has had experience on the plaintiffs' side of the courtroom as a lawyer, the sector that is raising them ost financial opposition to the amendment. Pro-life groups have also opposed the amendment as has the ultraright Secure Arkansas group, which fears the influence of corporate money.
A lawsuit challenging Issue One as unconstitutional logrolling — combining more than one proposal in a single amendment — produced a recent ruling by Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce that removed the amendment from the ballot. But an appeal by the group supporting it, led by an Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce executive, has put it before the Supreme Court on an expedited basis.