LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas Supreme Court rejected an effort Thursday to make it easier to challenge proposed constitutional amendments that are placed on the ballot by the Legislature.
Justices rejected the proposed rule change from Scott Trotter, an attorney opposed to a measure going before voters next year that would limit damages awarded in lawsuits and give the Legislature control over court rules. Trotter’s proposal would have allowed challenges to be filed directly with the state Supreme Court over proposed amendments referred to voters by the Legislature. Under current rules, measures initiated by voters through petitions can be challenged directly to the state Supreme Court while lawsuits over referred measures must first go through a lower court.
Trotter’s proposal also would have required justices to consider whether a legislatively referred proposal is intelligible, honest and impartial, which is the standard used for those initiated by voters. He said the court currently uses a much narrower standard: whether the legislatively referred proposal is a “manifest fraud” on the public.
“Both from a procedural standpoint and from the standpoint of the standard that the court uses, it’s much easier to file a challenge to the ballot title and popular name written by the people on an initiated amendment,” Trotter said. “And it’s much harder to bring about a challenge to a ballot title or popular name written by the Legislature.”
The court did not elaborate on its reason for denying the request in its one-page order. Trotter had asked the justices to refer the proposed rule change to a committee or to set a period to gather public comments on the idea.
Trotter is trying to place a measure on the ballot aimed at counteracting the Republican-backed Legislature’s measure to limit civil damages. The proposal would ban the Legislature from limiting civil damages and keep the court in charge of its rules. Among other changes, it would also increase the number of votes required to override a governor’s veto and require disclosure from outside campaign groups. Trotter said he’s working on revisions to the proposal after the initial wording was rejected by the attorney general’s office.
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