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story.lead_photo.caption At left, a screenshot of the Arkansas Supreme Court's opinion blocking votes from being counted on Issue 1. At right, a file photo of the court.

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas' highest court Thursday ordered election officials to not count votes for a proposal to limit damages awarded in civil lawsuits and rejected an effort to block an initiative to raise the state's minimum wage.

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled on the two ballot measures days before early voting begins for the Nov. 6 midterm election. Justices upheld a state judge's ruling that the ballot measure limiting civil lawsuit damages unconstitutionally combined separate proposals. The measure also would have given the Legislature control over court rules in the state.

"The actual text of (the ballot measure) itself, even by a generous reading, institutes at least seven individual numerated changes or additions to the constitution that would significantly alter the status quo," Justice Jo Hart wrote in the court's 6-1 ruling.


Arkansas Supreme Court opinion on Issue 1


The ballot measure blocked by the court would have capped civil damages at $500,000 for noneconomic losses, such as pain and psychological distress. It would cap punitive damages at $500,000 or three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded, whichever is higher. It also would cap attorneys' contingency fees at one-third of the net amount recovered.

"We see this as a win for the people of the state of Arkansas, that the constitution has meaning and it supports people's rights," said Jeff Priebe, an attorney for the retired judge challenging the measure.

Arkansas' majority-Republican Legislature last year voted to send voters the measure, an effort backed by business groups to reinstate legal caps that have been chipped away over the years by court rulings.

"This very ruling demonstrates the need for the reforms contained in Issue 1 that seek to restore the balance among our branches of government," Carl Vogelpohl, campaign manager for Arkansans for Jobs and Justice, the group behind the measure.

Supporters and opponents of the measure had spent more than $4.6 million combined on the campaign, with a flood of TV ads running throughout Arkansas. The proposal had faced surprising opposition from some Christian conservatives, including a group that rallied churches and abortion opponents against the measure.

Also, justices unanimously rejected a separate lawsuit trying to disqualify the proposal to gradually raise Arkansas' minimum wage from $8.50 an hour to $11 by 2021. Opponents of the proposal, which had included the state Chamber of Commerce, had challenged some of the signatures submitted for the initiative as invalid.


Arkansas Supreme Court opinion on Issue 5


Supporters of the wage hike said they planned to ramp up their advertising campaign now that the proposal cleared the legal challenge.

"We've been holding back and being very conservative up until this point in time because you don't want to spend a lot money and be taken off the ballot," said David Couch, the attorney for the wage-hike campaign.

Arkansas' minimum wage is higher than its surrounding states, though a wage increase is also on Missouri's ballot next month.

"If it passes, this measure will be detrimental to our state's economy, costing Arkansas jobs, increasing prices for Arkansas consumers, and ultimately hurting many Arkansas workers," Randy Zook, president of the state Chamber of Commerce, said.

The Supreme Court has yet to rule on a lawsuit challenging another ballot measure that would impose the strictest term limits in the country on Arkansas' legislators. The court last week rejected a challenge to a casino legalization measure.

Read Friday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

— The Associated Press


The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the wording of Issue 1 — a proposed amendment that would enact sweeping changes to the authority of Arkansas courts — failed to meet constitutional muster and ordered that no votes for or against the measure be counted in the upcoming election.

Justices also rejected a separate lawsuit trying to disqualify a proposal to gradually raise Arkansas' minimum wage from $8.50 an hour to $11 by 2021. Opponents of the proposal had challenged some of the signatures submitted for the initiative.

The 6-1 ruling by the court on Issue 1 affirmed an earlier decision by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce.

Issue 1 was referred to the voters last year by the legislature. It proposed to enact caps on attorneys fees and certain lawsuit damages, while giving legislators final rule making authority over the courts.

The campaign for the issue had already heated up, with millions of dollars raised by competing business and legal groups.

Television spots regarding the issue have also been airing for weeks.

— John Moritz

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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Archived Comments

  • YellowDog2
    October 18, 2018 at 10:36 a.m.


  • JakeTidmore
    October 18, 2018 at 11 a.m.


  • RBear
    October 18, 2018 at 11:23 a.m.

    Good on both counts. Issue 1 was overreach by an already corrupt legislature and never should have been on the ballot in its form. Issue 5 was brought to the ballot by the citizens and should be passed. How's that CofC record looking regarding ballot issues now?

  • RP57
    October 18, 2018 at 11:29 a.m.

    Do you actually know what Issue 1 was about? I know an attorney who supported it on principle even though it would affect him adversely.

  • RBear
    October 18, 2018 at 11:40 a.m.

    RP57 actually yes, and the biggest problem with it is the legislative overreach regarding judicial procedure. A question back at you. How many states actually have that in place today? What does TX, the strongest supporter of tort reform, have?

  • arkansan64
    October 18, 2018 at 12:18 p.m.

    Glad there are no attorneys in the legislature and no corrupt attorneys around.... a very good day for the 10-and-out lawyers.

    October 18, 2018 at 12:43 p.m.

    OCTOBER 18, 2018 AT 12:18 P.M.
    Glad there are no attorneys in the legislature and no corrupt attorneys around.... a very good day for the 10-and-out lawyers.

    Not to Mention the Half-Ass Preachers we have in the Legislature

  • hah406
    October 18, 2018 at 1:07 p.m.

    The legislature already has too much power in this state, and they are corrupt as hell. No way would I want them to have the power to make rules for the judiciary. As it is, we need to change the state constitution to require a super-majority to override a governor's veto. That would restore balance.

  • purplebouquet
    October 18, 2018 at 2:05 p.m.

    Raising the minimum wage could actually hurt the low-income workers the proposal is supposed to help. Google "The $15 Minimum Wage Is Turning Hard Workers Into Black Market Lawbreakers" for a thought-provoking docu video on YouTube on that very subject.

  • JakeTidmore
    October 18, 2018 at 2:26 p.m.

    htt ps://w ww.nelp.o rg/pu
    1) Workers in Every Single Arkansas County—Nearly 1 in 4 Working Arkansans in Total—Would Benefit From an $11 Minimum Wage
    2) In 26 Counties, Issue 5 Will Raise Wages for More than 30 Percent of Workers, Largely in Arkansas’ Small Towns and Rural Areas
    3) A Growing Number of Jurisdictions Are Enacting Minimum Wage Increases, Reflecting Continued Concerns With Low Wages and Support for Bold Change
    4) Conclusion:
    Raising the minimum wage is one of main tools that states and cities across the country are using to help working families overcome decades of stagnating wages and the rising cost of basic necessities. There is no part of Arkansas where workers and families can afford the basics, save, and achieve some economic security under the state’s current $8.50 minimum wage. Issue 5 would bring a much-needed wage increase to nearly 1 in 4 workers in Arkansas, directly affecting every county in the state.