SHAWN WOMACK: No vote on his judicial plan.

Here’s an update on the debate among Arkansas judges on addressing requests for new judgeships. Judges, meeting on the matter during the Arkansas Judicial Council meeting in Rogers, agreed five are needed but did not vote on Supreme Court Justice Shawn Womack’s idea to create the new judgeships by taking them away from other districts in the state.

We’ve reported previously on the request for five new judges, including in Benton and Crawford Counties and in Northeast Arkansas. Last week, we reported on organized opposition that had arisen to the plan in South Arkansas and the emergence of concerns that taking judgeships from parts of the state with heavy black populations could run afoul of the federal Hunt decree, which set up judicial districts aimed at putting blacks on the bench. A number of judges also said Womack had usurped power that didn’t belong to him on guiding judicial districting. They argued that only circuit judges are supposed to make decisions on need and allocation of judges, not members of the Supreme Court.


A spectator who requested anonymity gave me a summary of events today:

* Three lawyers for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, lawyers in the Hunt decree, first met with the Judicial Resources Assessment Committee. They reportedly wouldn’t commit to an agreement on the issue because no concrete redistricting proposal had been made.


* Then the Committee met on the requests for judgeships. It voted unanimously that five new judgeships were needed. Then Justice Womack presented his idea to cut five judges elsewhere and reshuffle the boundaries of some districts to meet the need. It didn’t come to a vote. A motion was made first to adjourn the meeting and that motion passed with only two opposing votes.

For now, the idea of cannibalizing other districts is dead. But the legislature has the final say. There’s nothing to prevent Womack, a former Republican senator, from freelancing his plan at the legislature. Legislators won’t hear just from Womack if that happens. They’ll also hear from judges all over the state, it would appear.