OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: A stopgap on Sarah

Did you ever see that cartoon by George Fisher in which Orval Faubus was speaking to an Arkansas General Assembly made up of faces all looking like Orval Faubus?

Imagine, then, a group photograph of the Arkansas Supreme Court in which two of the seven black-robed justices look like Sarah Sanders, and two or three others bear resemblances.

In that context, let's talk about Courtney Hudson. She looks nothing like Sarah Sanders. She's competently nonpartisan in her judging. She is not the problem on the Arkansas Supreme Court.

The problem is that most of the other justices are coming straight out of partisan Arkansas Republican politics. They are making a mockery of the concept of nonpartisan election of judges.

Associate Justice Barbara Webb is married to Doyle Webb, long the chairperson of the state Republican Party. She is running for chief justice. Her victory would give Sanders an appointment to fill Webb's associate justice position, meaning with another raging Republican, most assuredly.

Cody Hiland was chosen to be GOP chairman by Gov. Sarah Sanders, who then lifted him from that position to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court caused by the death of Associate Justice Robin Wynne. Hiland can't run this time. That's where Hudson comes in, a point to which I'll return.

Another associate justice, Rhonda Wood, comes from that old Faulkner County Republican network of Gilbert Baker, who did a stint as GOP chairman. And Wood is running against Webb for chief justice. Like Webb, she keeps her current seat if she loses the race. If she should win, then Sanders would nominate her successor rather than Webb's.

Shawn Womack was a leading Republican state legislator, a combatively partisan one, before finding his way to the Supreme Court.

That's four justices on the seven-member court who are Republican, one there by direct appointment of Sanders.

Hudson could make it five Republicans and two via Sanders' direct appointment, although I'll continue to stress that Hudson is not herself one and does not have that as her purpose.

She is instead a nimble-footed servant of herself who has figured out that, from her current seat on the court, she can run for the vacancy made by Wynne's passing and either slide over if winning or stay in her current seat if losing. Her long-term scheme seems to be to get to the other seat because of its better schedule of terms that would allow her to serve longer as a justice and avoid having to give up judicial retirement earlier if running after the age of 70.

Though it's hardly her purpose, Hudson would, if winning, leave a vacancy in her current seat and give Sanders a second direct appointment--this one to fill the vacancy of Hudson's self-serving slide over to the new position.

That would increase the burden of raging Republicans on the seven-member court from four to five. Try winning an injunction against the governor or her interest with those odds.

So, in that context, let's talk about Carlton Jones. Before Hudson cooked up this musical-seats scheme, he had announced as a candidate to fill the seat left by Wynne's death and filled only temporarily by Hiland's appointment from Sanders.

All else being equal: Would you rather support the first-ever election of a Black candidate, Jones, to a statewide constitutional office, or assist the clever self-serving maneuvering of a veteran justice, Hudson, to delay and enhance her retirement?

I asked Jones the other day what commended him beyond Hudson's scheming and any concern about the expanding influence of Sanders.

"What really matters about this race is confidence in the credibility of our courts, and my experience performing my duties as a prosecutor and judge commend me for that," he said. Beyond that, he said, "it is said that, when America gets the sniffles, the minority community gets the flu. So, I do bring a closer relationship to the people and sensitivity on that."

Jones is 62, a former deputy prosecuting attorney in Texarkana for 20 years, the elected prosecuting attorney there for four years, and, since 2014, a circuit judge of Miller County. He is plainly a nonpartisan candidate, as shown by the fundraiser to be held for him Monday and hosted by mild luminaries spanning Democrats such as Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln and Republicans such as Jimmy Hickey and Chuck Banks--all across-the-aisle types.

If Hudson is a decent judge, as she is, and Jones qualified, as he is, then why not have both--keeping her where she is and making important history with a well-credentialed Black man while also limiting the direct Sarah dynasty in the judicial branch?

Please note that I just endorsed both. Vote for Jones to put him on the court and keep Hudson there as well. And people say I'm negative.

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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