(The Center Square) – Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin called a lawsuit against the LEARNS Act political, while the plaintiffs in the suit said the case is a constitutional question in briefs filed Tuesday.
Circuit Court Judge Herbert T. Wright suspended implementation of the law last month until a June 20 hearing. At issue is whether or not lawmakers should have taken a separate vote on the emergency clause that makes the act effective on the governor’s signature.
Griffin asked the Arkansas Supreme Court for a stay of Wright’s order last week but was denied. The Court agreed to expedite consideration of the case and asked the parties to file briefs by Tuesday.
Parents and others initially filed the lawsuit to stop the State Board of Education from entering a contract with a management company to oversee the Marvell-Elaine School District. The emergency clause is valid, and the lawsuit is political, Griffin said in his brief.
“There are some questions courts shouldn’t answer,” Griffin said. “Thus, to avoid violating the separation of powers—the ‘basic principle upon which our government is founded,’—courts don’t entertain these so-called political questions.”
The plaintiffs said the question is not political but constitutional. They quoted a Twitter post by Eddie Goodson, a Crossett school board member who said, “If the state government cannot be held accountable (sued) for violating the state constitution, the state constitution is as worthless as the ink it took to write it. The very reason for a constitution is to define and restrict THE GOVERNMENT, not the people.”
“Mr. Goodson is right, and barring the Appellees’ lawsuit as a nonjusticiable political question would do significant damage to the public’s trust and confidence in the judicial system,” the plaintiffs said in their brief.
The Court ordered the parties to reply to the briefs by Wednesday.
Griffin approved a possible ballot question on the LEARNS Act in a separate challenge to the law but said the courts could throw it out because of its length.
The Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students hope to get the LEARNS Act on the November 2024 ballot and overturn the law in what they call “a citizens veto.”
“This ballot title, which is more than 8,000 words, is the longest in Arkansas history by a large margin,” Griffin said. “The Court has cited length and complexity as major factors in rejecting ballot titles with 550, 587, 709 and 727 words. The Arkansas Supreme Court will be the sole arbiter of whether this ballot title is too lengthy and complex if it is challenged at a later stage in the referendum process.”
To get the question on the ballot, the group needs 54,109 signatures or 6% of the people who voted in the last gubernatorial election.