AR Briefly

Arkansas AG appeals LEARNS Act ruling to state Supreme Court

By: - July 3, 2023 2:32 pm
Arkansas Supreme Court

Arkansas Supreme Court (Courtesy Photo)

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin on Monday filed an appeal of an order invalidating the emergency clause of the LEARNS Act, the governor’s sweeping education law.

“I have appealed the Pulaski Circuit Court’s ruling in the LEARNS Act case to the Arkansas Supreme Court, am confident in the strength of our arguments and will continue to defend the Act with vigor and enthusiasm,” Griffin said in a statement.

Pulaski County Judge Herbert Wright on Friday ruled the law’s emergency clause is invalid because it was not passed with a separate roll-call vote garnering a two-thirds majority as required by the Arkansas Constitution. 

An emergency clause allows a law to go into effect immediately, instead of 91 days after the end of a legislative session. Laws without an emergency clause go into effect Aug. 1.

Arkansas LEARNS Act again on hold following court ruling

Friday’s order marked the second time Wright has struck down the law’s emergency clause, but Griffin said the latest ruling doesn’t affect implementation of the law.

“The previous order by the circuit court, which we successfully appealed, prohibited the Department of Education from implementing LEARNS,” Griffin said. “The order from Friday does not prohibit LEARNS from being implemented, including accepting applications for Educational Freedom Accounts.” 

The Education Department began accepting applications for Educational Freedom Accounts, the new school voucher program created by the law, two weeks ago.

Another difference with this second appeal is the shifting makeup of the state’s high court. Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders appointed former U.S. Attorney and current Republican Party of Arkansas chairman Cody Hiland to the state Supreme Court Monday morning, filling a vacancy after the death of Associate Justice Robin Wynne on June 21.  

“This is the first time Arkansas’ Supreme Court will have a conservative majority and I know it will have the same effect on our state as it has had on our country,” Sanders said. 

When the high court struck down a temporary restraining order against the LEARNS Act in mid-June over a procedural hurdle, three of the justices indicated that they’d rule in favor of the state on the merits of the case, rejecting the separate vote argument or saying that judicial intervention violates the separation of powers.

A fourth justice said the lawsuit should be tossed altogether due to the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which bars most lawsuits against the state.

Only Chief Justice John Dan Kemp and Wynne favored the plaintiffs in a dissenting opinion.


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Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is a multimedia journalist who has reported since 2007 on a wide range of topics, including politics, health, education, immigration and the arts for NPR affiliates, print publications and digital platforms. A University of Arkansas alumna, she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a master’s degree in documentary film.