Robin Wynne secures second term on Arkansas Supreme Court

Opponent’s campaign tested the boundaries of state’s nonpartisan elections

By: - November 9, 2022 8:15 pm
Arkansas Supreme Court Associate Justice Robin Wynne (left) and Faulkner County Circuit Judge Chris Carnahan face off in a nonpartisan runoff election Nov. 8. (Photos courtesdy of Arkansas Secretary of State's website)

Arkansas Supreme Court Associate Justice Robin Wynne (left) and Faulkner County Circuit Judge Chris Carnahan face off in a nonpartisan runoff election Nov. 8. (Photos courtesy of Arkansas Secretary of State’s website)

Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Robin Wynne overcame a strong challenge from Circuit Judge Chris Carnahan to win reelection to the high court’s Position 2 in Tuesday’s election.

Wynne finished with 58.4% of the vote to Carnahan’s 41.6%, according to the Secretary of State’s election results website.

With 73 of 75 counties reporting as of Wednesday, the vote was:

  • Wynne — 445,851
  • Carnahan — 317,728

Wynne said Wednesday he was thankful that voters chose him for a second term and said it was an honor to serve on the state’s highest court.

“I intend to continue to faithfully discharge my responsibilities as a fair and impartial judge of the issues,” he said in a phone interview.

Carnahan said he was glad for the opportunity to get his message to the people of Arkansas and told supporters to “keep your signs dry.”

The race between the two judges drew attention to the erosion of the nonpartisan nature of judicial elections. Amendment 80 to the Arkansas Constitution requires elections for judgeships to be nonpartisan.

After the May 24 nonpartisan election, Wynne and Carnahan headed to a runoff, and in a first since Amendment 80’s passage, the state Republican Party endorsed Carnahan.

The Arkansas Judicial Code of Conduct prohibits candidates from seeking or accepting endorsements from political organizations or elected officials. The code also prohibits candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions; they must receive donations through campaign committees.

In an interview a week before Tuesday’s vote, Carnahan said that the part of the judicial code that prohibits candidates from claiming party endorsements  “violates the rights of those groups and myself as a candidate,” he said.

“It’s unconstitutional. They know it’s unconstitutional.”

In a campaign finance report filed at the end of October, Carnhan’s campaign reported $78,600, or about 39% of the campaign total, from Republican sources.

In an interview after that report was filed, Carnahan said he viewed the contributions as an endorsement.

If someone wants to challenge the donations, he continued, “everyone knows it will be a losing project.”

In comments Wednesday to the Advocate, Wynne said the people of Arkansas passed Amendment 80 because they wanted judicial elections to be nonpartisan so that the judiciary remained independent.

“We’re at a critical time in our democracy,” he said. “Our democracy depends on a fair, impartial and independent judiciary.”

Even though judges are elected, they can’t be influenced by politics once on the court, Wynne said.

He emphasized that the American system of three co-equal branches of government — the executive, legislative and judicial — requires that the judiciary “stay nonpartisan and independent. That’s what gives us credibility.”

 

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Sonny Albarado, Arkansas Advocate
Sonny Albarado, Arkansas Advocate

In his 50-year career, Sonny Albarado has been an investigations editor, a business editor, a city editor, an environmental reporter and a government reporter at newspapers in Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana. Most recently, he retired from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette after serving as projects editor for 12 ½ years. He got his start in journalism as editor of the Nicholls Worth, the student newspaper at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La., where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1973. Nicholls awarded him an honorary Doctor of Letters in 2014.

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