OPINION

OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Follow Constitution? Bah!


The big hearing scheduled Thursday in Pulaski Circuit Court on the state Corrections Board's standing up to Gov. Sarah Sanders was postponed.

I first suspected the delay was to give Attorney General Tim Griffin a chance to read Amendment 33 to the state Constitution. Instead, the stated reason was that the wife of the state prison board's outside lawyer, Abtin Mehdizadegan--hired because Griffin cared only about representing Sanders (L'Etat c'est Sarah)--was having a baby.

Please note that I did not just refer to our governor as Queen Sarah. I'm advised that it is tacky to say that. I merely used a French phrase to convey that she thinks she is the state, as does her jester, Griffin.

Now the hearing is scheduled for Thursday of this week.

Thus, it is still uncertain whether Griffin has read Amendment 33, which, passed by the voters in 1942, grandfathered in existing Corrections Board powers and said they could not be reduced or transferred.

The idea was to keep governors from meddling politically. I'm not saying it's a reasonable idea. I'm saying it's in the state Constitution.

Griffin certainly pays no attention to the amendment, like Sanders, who pushed through a couple of bills in the last regular session presuming to sap Corrections Board powers. Corrections officials warned against the bills but didn't come out vigorously against them because, like everyone else, they were afraid of Sarah.

The Corrections Board members somehow worked up the nerve to stand up to her when her Arizona-imported prison secretary, Joe Profiri, presumed a few weeks ago to force them to go along with hundreds of new beds the board believed to be ill-advised considering staffing constraints.

That led to several legal and political dust-ups, with the main one being the subject of this hearing: The Corrections Board wants those new laws overturned on account of violating Amendment 33, as they plainly do.

The board won a temporary restraining order against their enforcement, which permitted the board to suspend with pay Sarah's prison guy, who has now left the premises. The postponed hearing was to argue about whether Pulaski Circuit Judge Patricia James should make her temporary restraining order a permanent one, pending a certain appeal.

All of this is important. Prison overcrowding is important. Gubernatorial powers are important. The state Constitution is important.

But there is a bit of spectator-sport entertainment to this affair.

You have old friends of the current governor's dad, and early supporters of her, taking her on. You have Griffin doing her legal bidding because he reads polls and would like to be governor after her. You have the attorney general declining to represent the board, though that is literally in his job description, and saying its members are not persons, but effectively "the state," and therefore may not bring such an action against themselves--all the while embracing as the state the governor who carries him around in her hip pocket.

Then you have the outside lawyer, Mehdizadegan, who seems feisty and competent, telling the prison board members in a public conference call that Griffin is simply trying to intimidate them with that you-have-no-right business and not to let him.

And then there is the consideration that the outcome of all this fussing is likely known already.

If recent patterns are any indication, the Pulaski judge will rule in favor of the Corrections Board and the Constitution and against Sanders, after which the matter will go to the state Supreme Court where the four Republican agents will outnumber the three law-appliers and rule in Sanders' favor.

I refer to the spouse of a former GOP chairperson; an associate justice with GOP backing historically and needing some of it now as she challenges the former GOP chairman's spouse for chief justice; a highly partisan former GOP state senator, and a former state GOP chairperson whom Sanders herself appointed to the Supreme Court to fill a vacancy.

For another example of how this could work: It could be that, amid this furor or after it, Sanders would move to use her power under Amendment 33 to try to remove prison board members. But the provision says she must get the removal signed off on by a majority of the other members. She couldn't get that. But she could go to court.

Again, she would lose in Pulaski County and win in the end at state Republican headquarters, also known as the Arkansas Supreme Court.

She's not just the state. She's the law around here.

The governor I dare not call queen has the state plumb snookered.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected]. Read his @johnbrummett feed on X, formerly Twitter.


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