OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Maneuvers on the court

I don't know of a better way to select judges than the absurd way we do it in Arkansas.

Right now, I'm letting myself get all bothered by the seeming deceptiveness by which Associate Justice Courtney Hudson of the Arkansas Supreme Court is running for associate justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court.

That sounds like she's running for re-election. She titles her campaign the "Keep Courtney on the Court Campaign." But she's not running for re-election. She's running for her retirement account.

She's in the middle of her duly elected term. And she's doing fine in it. After getting a load of some of these hyperpartisan Republican justices, I judge her work above-par by the contemporary grading curve.

But she's a long-term personal maneuverer, a word I chose instead of schemer.

She's trying to hop over to another seat, one vacated by the death of Robin Wynne. The other seat carries a schedule of terms that would allow her to stay a judge longer into her 70s, which are quite a long way off for her ever-planning self, before she is forced by existing state law to retire or surrender her retirement funds if running again.

If that sounds like age discrimination, forcing someone past 70 to quit or forfeit retirement, we certainly could use a little of it in terms of eligibility for presidential candidates.

If you wish to oblige Hudson's stated campaign desire to be kept on the Supreme Court, then vote for her opponent--the perfectly able longtime Circuit Judge Carlton Jones of Texarkana--in which case she'll waltz right back to her office to continue serving on the court in her current seat by her current term.

Her continued service on the state Supreme Court is not on the ballot or at risk in this election, no matter what her campaign website says.

Surely you see what I see--which is that, if her sole purpose was simply to be kept on the court, she'd sit where she is and keep doing her job.

Yes, you could vote for her pointlessly for this different seat--pointlessly unless you consider her long-term retirement plan your voting responsibility--and, in so doing, vote against, in Jones, a well-qualified judge who would be the first Black ever elected to statewide constitutional office.

Or you could vote for him and get them both, and each would probably be better than the other five.

But, instead of the "Keep Courtney on the Court Campaign," what we really have is the "Pad Courtney's Retirement Wealth Campaign" or the "Keep a Black Man from Winning a Statewide Constitutional Office Campaign."

There also is the matter of Sarah Sanders' getting to appoint a justice if Hudson vacates her seat upon winning the other. So, we also have the "Help Courtney Oblige the Sarah Machine Campaign."

I wrote about this race and these matters on Sunday. One fellow said Jones sounded good until I quoted him as saying his election would forge a closer connection between the court and Black people. The critic said that argument was no basis for running for judge.

But if it's bogus reasoning for a Supreme Court candidacy that bothers you, consider the reasoning in moving an existing Supreme Court justice from one musical chair to another to stand a better shot at longer service and more bountiful retirement funding.

Of all the things in the world to worry about in an Arkansas Supreme Court race, the marginal difference in the ever-resourceful Courtney Hudson's retirement health is not one of them.

She'll be fine.

Ponder instead whether there's any benefit for Arkansas in having at long last even one statewide Black constitutional officer, in this case an experienced, qualified and well-meaning judge.

Judges are important. Their noble concept--indeed the rule of law--is the essential underpinning of this nation. Thank goodness scores of judges across the country, some nominated by Donald Trump, rejected his un-American attempt to overturn a legal election and deliver a stolen victory to his monstrous ego disorder.

There is no clearly better way to get our state and local judges picked than the charade we make the candidates play, which is to feign nonpartisanship and mouth vaguely pleasant generalities while deploying occasional subtle deception.

That leaves only one answer, which is for judges and candidates for judgeships to run better, do better and be better.

Beyond that, someone might throw into a broader proposed constitutional amendment a provision that a sitting Supreme Court justice could not, while occupying one seat in an elected term, seek another seat in an election and return to the first if losing.

We only have three associate justices of the Supreme Court running that way for chief justice right now. And none of them is all that as an associate justice.

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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