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Arkansas LEARNS Act holdup to continue, state Supreme Court rules

by Neal Earley | June 2, 2023 at 5:56 p.m.
FILE — The Arkansas State Supreme Court building is shown in this undated file photo.

A lower court order barring the LEARNS Act from taking effect will remain in effect place for now, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Friday afternoon.

In a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court denied a request from the Arkansas attorney general’s office seeking to overturn an order from a Pulaski County circuit judge that temporarily blocked the education law from taking effect.

On May 26, Circuit Judge Herbert Wright issued a temporary restraining order stopping Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ education legislation from taking effect until a June 20 hearing.

The attorney general’s office filed an appeal with the Arkansas Supreme Court, asking it to step in and undo Wright’s order. Friday’s order from the state's high court comes after 11 Phillips County residents and two public school advocates filed a lawsuit against the Arkansas Department of Education over the LEARNS Act.

“The Plaintiffs are heartened that the Supreme Court has rejected the State’s bad-faith argument that the legislature should be free to violate the Arkansas Constitution,” Ali Noland, attorney for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said in a statement to the Democrat-Gazette. “We look forward to briefing the additional legal issues requested by the court, and we are grateful that the Arkansas judiciary is still strongly committed to upholding the rule of law.”

The lawsuit claims lawmakers erred when approving the LEARNS Act’s emergency clause, a parliamentary move that allows legislation to take effect immediately. Without an emergency clause, laws do not take effect until 91 days after the legislative session ends. While the high court denied the attorney general’s office’s emergency motion to stay Wright’s order, it did grant a request to expedite the appeal process, ordering legal briefs to be submitted to the court by Tuesday and their replies by Wednesday.

“I am disappointed that the Arkansas Supreme Court declined to immediately block the circuit court’s order," Attorney General Tim Griffin said in a statement. "But I’m pleased that the Court has accelerated the briefing on this matter, so that it can decide this entire case next week."

This story has been edited to add Attorney General Tim Griffin's statement. It was originally published at 4:33 p.m.


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