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Arkansas' non-partisan elections taking partisan, anti-citizen turn


We previously reported on the influence of money in supposedly non-partisan judicial elections here. That post focused on a discovery by investigators that State Farm had lied about the amount of funds it contributed to a judicial election in Illinois. State Farm contributed millions of dollars to a judicial candidate that just so happened to cast the deciding vote overturning a $1 billion verdict against the insurance company for secretly using aftermarket parts to repair vehicles.

Turn now to Arkansas. The Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, an arm of the U.S. Chamber that believes "injured people should have limited ability to sue corporations for damages in the court," is getting involved in two appeals court races in Arkansas. Other partisan money (on both sides, mind you) appears to be pouring in. The retired executive director of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission explains in detail why this is a bad idea.

We've also got a page that explains why monkeying with the right to a jury trial — guaranteed by the 7th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and by Article 2, § 7 of the Arkansas Constitution — is a bad idea for citizens.  Our current jury system in Arkansas is about local control. Local citizens serve on juries and make decisions about disputes between, most often, their fellow citizens and huge corporations. In many cases, however, corporations already hold an advantage because current rules permit them to hide their involvement.

The courts are the only place where citizens can stand as equals to major corporations. The legal reform sought by the U.S. and Arkansas Chambers of Commerce would further tip the balance of power by limiting the power of our citizens to access the court system. For this reason, we should be suspect of judicial candidates who take action showing they want money from lobbyists, because it's reasonable to believe they'll return the favor by limiting the right to a jury trial.