For Immediate Release
Contact: Denise Hoggard
LITTLE ROCK, AR (February 8, 2017) The Arkansas Bar Association is opposed to any attempt to usurp the constitutional authority of the judicial branch. Senate Joint Resolution 8, “A Constitutional Amendment Limiting Contingency Fees and Awards of Punitive Damage; and Changing the Powers of the General Assembly and the Supreme Court Regarding Rules of Pleading, Practice, and Procedure,” undermines the fair administration of justice and threatens our impartial courts. A fair and impartial judiciary is a hallmark of our democracy. The Association’s Legislation Committee has voted to oppose SJR8.
Arkansans are constitutionally guaranteed a court system that is fair and impartial. Senate Joint Resolution 8 proposes sweeping revisions to the state constitution that would, if referred by the Legislature and adopted by the public, take fundamental rights from the people of the state. The proposed constitutional amendment jeopardizes fundamental principles of justice, due process and the rule of law.
Our democratic system depends upon all three branches of our government functioning within the proper spheres and subject to the checks and balances put into place by our founding fathers. The legislative branch makes the law, the executive branch enforces the law, and the judiciary applies the law. Under SJR8 the Legislature is allowed to oversee the operations of the Court.
The proposal gives the Legislature ultimate responsibility for setting rules of pleading, practice, and procedure, taking that authority from the Arkansas Supreme Court. Arkansans elect the Supreme Court justices, trusting them to adopt the rules necessary to protect fairness in the courts. The Arkansas Supreme Court’s authority to make court rules which govern how lawsuits are filed, what can be heard, and how it must be presented, should remain with the Court. Courtroom proceedings are best left to the province of the court, as free from political pressure as possible.
SJR8 imposes limitations on awards, the effect of which will be to remove of lot of real decision-making from the jury. It pre-sets an arbitrary value for human suffering and life. Jurors in Arkansas generally use common sense and try to do the right thing. While we may not always agree with jurors, juries in Arkansas can be trusted.
SJR8 will also result in the courtroom door being closed to many Arkansans. One in four Arkansans live at or below 125% of the federal poverty level. SJR8 does not affect those people in Arkansas who can afford to pay for legal services. Justice for all necessarily means we must provide a system that is open to poor, working poor, and the middle class in our state.
The Arkansas Bar Association is working to carefully guard the rule of law, the fair and impartial administration of justice, and the rights of Arkansans to have meaningful access and participation in our courts.
The Arkansas Bar Association, established in 1898, is a voluntary, statewide organization with more than 5,000 members. Among its purposes are the advancement of justice and fostering among members high ideals of integrity, learning and public service.