Arkansas Supreme Court justices report conference travel-related expenses paid by Federalist Society

Arkansas Supreme Court Justices Cody Hiland (left) and Shawn Womack are shown in these file photos taken in July 2023 and October 2022, respectively. (Left, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe; right, NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
Arkansas Supreme Court Justices Cody Hiland (left) and Shawn Womack are shown in these file photos taken in July 2023 and October 2022, respectively. (Left, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe; right, NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)


In their annual personal financial disclosure reports, Arkansas Supreme Court Justices Cody Hiland and Shawn Womack disclosed that the Federalist Society paid for travel-related expenses for attending the group's conference in Utah in August.

Arkansas Supreme Court Justices Barbara Webb and Rhonda Wood also reported that entities at Georgetown University and George Mason University paid for travel-related expenses for them to attend conferences at the schools last year.

The deadline for elected and other high-ranking officials throughout state government to file their annual statement of financial interest with the secretary of state's office was Jan. 31.

On their annual financial disclosure reports, state officials are required to list each nongovernmental source of payment for their expenses for food, lodging or travel which bears a relationship to their office when they appear in their official capacity and when the expenses incurred exceed $150. They also are required to list the source, date, description and a reasonable estimate of the fair market value of each gift of more than $100 received by them or their spouse and each gift of more than $250 received by their dependent children.

On his report for 2023, Hiland reported that the Federalist Society of Washington, D.C., paid $3,063.10 in travel, food and lodging expenses for a conference Aug. 9. Hiland said Thursday the conference lasted two days in Park City, Utah.

In July, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders appointed Hiland, a former U.S. attorney, to the Arkansas Supreme Court to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Robin Wynne until 2025, after Hiland resigned as chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas.

On his report for 2023, Womack reported that the Federalist Society of Washington, D.C., paid $3,433.62 in travel, food and lodging expenses for a conference Aug. 9. He has served on the state Supreme Court since 2017 and is running unopposed for reelection this year.

The Federalist Society is an organization of 90,000 lawyers, law students, scholars and other individuals who believe that individual citizens can make the best choices for themselves and society, according to the group's website. The Federalist Society said it was founded in 1982 "by a group of law students interested in making sure that the principles of limited government embodied in our Constitution receive a fair hearing."

Webb reported the Georgetown University Law Center of Washington, D.C., paid $1,385 in expenses for lodging, food and gift bags from June 1-3.

Webb said this week in a text message to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the seminar from June 1-3 "covered the Constitution, Stare Decisis, Free Speech, recent US Supreme Court decisions, and Originalism along with some other topics."

Webb reported the "Law & Economics Center [in the] George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School" of Arlington, Va., paid $3,065.20 in expenses for lodging, meals and travel from March 3-10.

She said the weeklong training "covered Economics and the Law."

"Last year, I was honored to be selected to attend both of these legal training classes along with other State Supreme Court Justices, Circuit Judges, and Federal Judges," Webb said. "Justice Wood also attended the June 1-3 training."

Webb has been on the state Supreme Court since 2021.

Wood reported that Georgetown University paid $2,042.69 in flight/transportation, lodging and food expenses from May 31-June 4.

Wood attended an "Originalism Seminar by Randy Barnett of the Constitutional Law Center at Georgetown," Robert Coon, a spokesman for Wood's campaign, said in a text to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Originalism is a legal philosophy that the words in documents, especially the U.S. Constitution, should be interpreted as they were understood at the time they were written, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Wood also reported that the George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School paid $4,000 in flight, lodging and food expenses from Jan. 21-27.

Coon said "George Mason was a seminar on originalism organized by the Scalia Law School."

Wood has been on the state Supreme Court since 2015 and was on the state Court of Appeals from 2013-2014.

On their personal financial disclosure reports for 2023, Chief Justice Dan Kemp and Justices Courtney Hudson and Karen Baker didn't report any nongovernmental source of payment for travel-related expenses.

Kemp has been the Supreme Court's chief justice since 2017.

Hudson has been on the state Supreme Court since 2011, after serving two years on the state Court of Appeals.

Baker has been on the state's Supreme Court since 2011 and was on the state Court of Appeals from 2001-2010.

None of the seven state Supreme Court justices reported the receipt of any gifts in 2023 on their annual financial disclosure reports.

Baker, Webb and Wood, along with attorney and former state Rep. Jay Martin, are vying in the March 5 nonpartisan judicial election, which is held in conjunction with the primary election. If none of the candidates get a majority of the votes, the two top vote-getters will advance to the runoff, which will be Nov. 5 in conjunction with the general election.

They are seeking to succeed Kemp, starting in 2025. Kemp has said he intends to retire at the end of his term in December 2024, noting that since he has passed age 70 he would have to relinquish his retirement benefits under state law if he were reelected.

Along with Circuit Judge Carlton Jones of Texarkana, Hudson is seeking election to serve the rest of the term in Position 2 of the court to which Wynne, who died in June, was elected in 2022.

Hudson is serving her second term on the court in Position 3. She has said seeking the Position 2 seat would allow her to serve a few more years on the court before reaching the mandatory judicial retirement.

The seven justices on the state Supreme Court are elected in statewide, nonpartisan elections and serve on the bench for eight-year terms. The salary for the chief justice is $219,902 a year, and the salaries for the associate justices are $203,625 a year.


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