Happy Independence Day! Our founders would be ashamed of the Attorney General’s blatant disregard for the Constitution. Here’s what’s happening:
- Friday 6/30- Judge Herbert Wright (again) ruled the LEARNS emergency clause unconstitutional due to lack of second vote by the legislature
- Monday 7/3- Attorney General appeals ruling, but insists LEARNS can continue to be implemented
- The AG’s refusal to respect this ruling is a threat to the separation of powers in our Constitution
- This disrespect of the judiciary is a problem that should alarm all Arkansans
On Friday June 30, Judge Herbert Wright issued a ruling similar to what we’ve seen before, saying due to the emergency clause of LEARNS having no standalone vote, the law can’t be legally implemented until August 1.
As we expect from a member of the judiciary, Wright did not rule on the merits of the policies within the LEARNS Act itself, as he believed that would have been a political statement. Instead, Judge Wright stuck to the Constitution, which clearly states that emergency clauses require a second vote by legislators.
As is expected, Attorney General Tim Griffin swiftly appealed the ruling from Judge Wright.
The same day he filed the appeal, the AG stated the Department of Education can and will move forward in implementing the LEARNS Act.
Arkansans have questions— If this recent ruling has no teeth, why does it need to be appealed so swiftly? Why appeal it at all?
What an incoherent and bumbling sequence of responses from the state’s chief law enforcement officer.
Separation of Powers
This issue harkens back to something we’ve watched all year. We’ve been concerned about Governor Sanders’ issue with separation of powers for a while now. Our three branches of government are entitled to check the power of one another, and Judge Wright is doing exactly that in his ruling about the constitutionality of this emergency clause. In fact, Judge Wright is staying firmly in his lane as he rules on this issue of Constitutionality.
By contrast, the Attorney General has chosen to forego his responsibility to the Constitution and the people of Arkansas by stating that LEARNS will move forward even after being ruled unconstitutional. AG Griffin does this while appealing a ruling that he apparently doesn’t believe he has to follow.
The Danger of an Unchecked Executive Branch
On this Independence Day, we would do well to remember the system of government our founders set up in the Constitution. It was one meant to prevent exactly what is happening here in Arkansas— the creeping threat of authoritarianism.
Our founders intended for the three branches of government to be accountable to one another, to answer to the people, and to prevent absolute rule by one individual.
Here in Arkansas, it seems we actually do have one individual, the Governor, turning the heads and pulling the strings to ensure compliance from all branches of government. We would hope there would be a limit to the Attorney General’s allegiance to Governor Sanders over the Constitution, but it seems the limit does not exist.
We Must Do Better
Upholding democracy and defending the Constitution is not a partisan issue. Like we said, the ruling from Judge Wright is not a statement on priorities in education policy. He did not criticize vouchers or praise teacher raises— He ruled the enactment of this law unconstitutional based on the plain language of the text.
After a ruling like this, we should be able to expect respect from the other branches of government. When we witness extreme avoidance of accountability to checks and balances, and indeed to the Constitution itself, it is incredibly destabilizing to our democracy and society itself.
In order to bring the stability our founders intended back to government, we must speak out about abuses of power like the one we’re witnessing from the Attorney General.
To recap, a judge has ruled implementation of the controversial LEARNS Act unconstitutional. The Attorney General has appealed the ruling, but is telling the Department of Education to plow ahead to set up voucher systems and other parts of LEARNS.
At the very least, Attorney General Tim Griffin is green lighting a law that was deemed unconstitutional by a judge… twice. This is an overreach of his power and demonstrates his allegiance to ideology over the Constitution itself.