Arkansas: constitutional amendment would subject supreme court’s rule making power to 3/5ths legislative approval: 2013 “tort reform” decision at issue

The latest in a 4-year effort to strip or curtail the Arkansas Supreme Court’s rulemaking power is set for a committee hearing today in the Senate State Agencies & Governmental Affairs Committee.

SJR 8 would, among other things related to damage awards in tort cases, require all rules of pleading, practice and procedure be subject to 3/5ths legislative approval or, by 3/5ths, amend or repeal any rule.

First, some background.

Arkansas in November 2000 rewrote their state’s judiciary article (Amendment 80) and in so doing placed in the hands of the state’s supreme court the power to

prescribe the rules of pleading, practice and procedure for all courts; provided these rules shall not abridge, enlarge or modify any substantive right and shall preserve the right of trial by jury as declared in this Constitution.

That exclusive vesting in the court of the power to set such rules, practices, and procedures was cited by the state’s supreme court in 2013 when it struck down a 2003 tort reform law (news reports here).

SJR 8 would place a requirement that any such rule must have the 3/5ths approval of the legislature.

(2) A rule of pleading, practice, or procedure prescribed by the Supreme Court shall not become effective until approved by the General Assembly at a regular session, fiscal session, or special session.
(b)(1) By a three-fifths vote of each house, the General Assembly may enact laws:
(A) Approving, amending, or repealing a rule of pleading, practice, or procedure prescribed by the Supreme Court and
(B) Adopting on its own initiative a rule of pleading, practice, or procedure.

Since the 2013 ruling there have been several efforts to remove or curtail that rulemaking power discussed here with SJR 8 of 2017 being just the latest. Among them: a plan to allow for merit/commission selection of Supreme Court if the Supreme Court’s rulemaking authority was curtailed.

NOTE: The lack of legislation in 2014 and 2016 is due to a constitutional provision than the legislature can only consider budget/appropriations items in even numbered years.

SJR 5 of 2013 ORIGINAL: Removes Supreme Court’s rulemaking power and transfers to legislature. AS AMENDED: provides “General Assembly shall delegate nonexclusive authority to the Supreme Court” regarding rulemaking. Provides laws enacted by General Assembly supersede rules adopted by Supreme Court.

SJR 6 of 2013 Removes Supreme Court’s rulemaking power and transfers to legislature.

HJR 1016 of 2015 AS AMENDED: Creates merit/commission system for Supreme Court. Authorizes legislature to enact “loser pays” laws and laws against “frivolous” lawsuits, supreme court rulemaking authority notwithstanding.

 

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