Arkansas: plan to allow legislature to amend, repeal, or create rules of court heading to voters in November 2018

The Arkansas Senate gave final approval yesterday on a constitutional amendment to give the legislature broad control over rules adopted by the Arkansas Supreme Court for pleading, practice, and procedure are handled. SJR 8 as it will appear on the November 2018 ballot also includes a tort reform package that would limit some attorney’s fees and punitive damages in lawsuits.

Currently the state’s constitution gives 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 power was cited by the Arkansas Supreme Court in striking down an earlier tort reform package.

SJR 8 would make two key changes

  1. the legislature could by 3/5ths majority amend or repeal any rule
  2. the legislature could by 3/5ths majority create a rule on its own initiative

The original Senate version also included a third provision that would have required the legislature approve by 3/5ths vote any rule adopted by the Supreme Court before it went into effect. The House stripped that language out.

SJR 8 now goes to the voters in November 2018.