April 25th, 2024

Hudson reelected to Arkansas Supreme Court; chief justice race too early to call

By Andrew Demillo, The Associated Press on March 5, 2024.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – Justice Courtney Hudson has been reelected to the Arkansas Supreme Court in a victory that will also hand Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders a new appointment to the court.

Hudson defeated Circuit Judge Carlton Jones in the race for position two on the seven-member court. The two were running to replace Justice Cody Hiland, who Sanders appointed to the court last year.

The race for chief justice remained too early to call Tuesday night, with three justices and a former lawmaker vying for the seat or a spot in a November runoff for it.

Hudson’s victory will create a vacancy on the court. The incumbent justice ran for Hiland’s seat in an effort to serve more time on the court because of the state’s judicial retirement rules.

Sanders appointed Hiland to the court last year to fill the vacancy created by Justice Robin Wynne’s death. Hiland, a former state Republican Party chairman and federal prosecutor, was not allowed to run for the seat since he had been appointed to it.

Jones would have become the first Black justice elected to the court if he had won the race.

Arkansas’ court races have been the focus of outside conservative groups in recent years, and Hudson in 2018 sued to block ads from the groups that targeted her. Those groups, however, stayed away this year’s court race.

Three of the court’s seven justices – Karen Baker, Barbara Webb and Rhonda Wood – are running against former state legislator Jay Martin for chief justice. If none of the candidates win a majority, the top two will advance to a November runoff.

The four are running to succeed Chief Justice Dan Kemp, who was first elected in 2016 and is not seeking reelection. A win by one of the three sitting justices would give the court its first woman elected chief justice in history.

Sanders declined to say who she voted for in the races after casting her ballot at a Little Rock community center Tuesday morning.

“I’m going to keep that one to myself so I don’t create any issues, but I’m confident we’re going to have a really strong Supreme Court and excited about what the future holds,” Sanders told reporters.

The seats are up as the state’s highest court is poised to take up key cases in several high-profile areas. Abortion rights supporters are trying to get a measure on the November ballot that would scale back a ban on the procedure that took effect when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.

The court has also been asked to weigh in on a fight between Sanders and the state Board of Corrections over who runs Arkansas’ prison system. Attorney General Tim Griffin is appealing a judge’s ruling against a law Sanders signed that took away the board’s ability to hire and fire the state’s top corrections official.

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