OPINION

OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: An exercise in irrelevance


Gov. Sarah Sanders and Attorney General Tim Griffin lost another court case last week and shrugged their shoulders, at least figuratively.

Hearing of the outcome reminded me of a Razorback football game against Alabama during the Bobby Petrino era.

The Hogs went down the field in four or five probably scripted plays on their opening possession to take a strikingly easy and routine 7-0 lead. The CBS camera focused on the Alabama sideline and the head coach, Nick Saban, who turned to an aide and literally shrugged.

He knew how the final score was going to go. He was dissing the early exercise in irrelevance.

Sanders and Griffin are Saban, in case that's not clear. Those of us who resist them are eventual losers, in case that's not clear.

Sanders and Griffin are politicians. They know that politics is on their side. And they are confident that the four-of-seven majority on the Republicanized state Supreme Court has their backs, too.

Justice is not blind at the state Supreme Court, at least to the extent that it sees red and blue clearly.

You have two justices competing for chief justice and needing Republican support and, to that end, Sanders' blessing. You have a highly partisan former Republican legislator. You have one guy whom Sanders appointed straight out of state Republican headquarters.

A plain reading of Amendment 33--which says a governor can't take independent responsibility and authority from the Corrections Board--wouldn't seem to stand a chance.

I can't imagine how the Supreme Court might get around Amendment 33. But I have every cynicism that it can.

I mean every confidence.

The four-robed GOP judicial contingent could say that Asa Hutchinson's reorganization of state government set up a new cabinet secretary of prisons separate from the provisions of Amendment 33. And that would be arguable except for the bill that got passed saying nothing in the reorganization would affect any part of Amendment 33, which was designed to provide that the prisons--and institutions of higher education--would be run by their boards independently of political actions by this governor or that, or this legislature or that.

Sanders and Griffin routinely pooh-pooh district court decisions coming out of courtrooms in the Pulaski County Courthouse. You know how Pulaski County is, all liberal and nitpicky on the letter of the law.

Polling no doubt available to both these political animals shows that Arkansas voters don't give a rip about being fair to prison inmates.

In testifying last week in disapproving terms about the scheme of Sanders' Tommy Robinson-esque prison secretary, Joe Profiri, to put prison beds in a prison gymnasium, Corrections Board member William "Dubs" Byers cited staffing concerns and added that the plan would get in the way of inmate recreation.

That's a perfectly valid point under federal rulings about prisoner treatment, including one in federal court in Arizona finding unconstitutional prison conditions when Profiri was deputy director and briefly acting director.

But, in political terms, I could hear Arkansas readers offering faux overwrought compassion.

Surely you can hear them, too: Boo hoo, they say as they wipe away nonexistent tears. Those poor convicted criminals might not be able to shoot any baskets or otherwise run and jump and play.

The state offered no denial of Profiri's gymnasium scheme or of testimony that he talked about erecting a tent city, the latter a staple of the infamous Arizona crime and punishment system that Sanders looks to import for the sincere flattery of imitation.

Sanders and Griffin didn't need to put up a fight. They'll appeal the permanent injunction the Pulaski judge granted. And then they'll appeal the full adverse ruling on the case itself.

Through it all, my underlying theory of Sanders' governing--that it's all about using the state to prove her far-right Trumpian bona fides to a national audience in service to her national profile and ambition--would seem to apply.

What's a little contrived excuse for a constitutional crisis in Arkansas when you have Trump-heir credentials in toughness on crime to develop and brandish?

Finally, a clarification, the necessity of which distresses and embarrasses me: In Sunday's column, I referred to the "three" Black students who entered Central High when it reopened in 1959 after a year's closure. There were five.

All I forgot were two members of the brave, historic and famous Little Rock Nine. I was focused on those newly entered after the year off, but there is no excuse. Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Walls of the original nine came back for their senior years and a second shot at a better education and endurance of ostracization.


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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