Arkansas: constitutional amendment creates quasi-federal system (with merit/commission elements) of selection for state’s supreme court

I mentioned last year that concerns over the amount of money being spent in state court races in general, and the state supreme court races in particular, had prompted discussions of legislative activity in the 2016 and 2017 session. The first proposal in this area has now been filed and the focus is squarely on the state’s supreme court.

SJR 4 would create a “1-and-done” quasi-federal system of selection for the supreme court that contains some elements of merit/commission systems but is unique in how it operates.

  1. Terms for the supreme court would be set at 14 years (currently 8) and a justice appointed to the court could not be reappointed.
  2. A Judicial Nominating Commission would be created, with the Governor naming 3 members, the House Speaker 1, and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate 1.
  3. Rather than having the Commission submit names to the Governor (as in other merit/commission systems), the Governor would submit 5 names to the Commission who would then review the names and rank them in order within 15 days. The Commission would have the power to strike up to 2 names in the process. The Governor does not have to take into account the Commission’s rankings.
  4. The Governor would then pick from the list and submit the nominee to the Senate for confirmation. There does not appear to be any provision for default confirmation or rejection is the senate fails to act.

SJR 4 has been filed in the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee.