AR Briefly

Arkansas attorney general files brief in LEARNS Act appeal

By: - July 28, 2023 1:38 pm
Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin, left, gestures during a news conference at the Arkansas Capitol. (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)

With just a few days before the LEARNS Act takes effect, Arkansas’ attorney general filed a brief in his appeal of a ruling that delays the effective date of the governor’s expansive education law. 

In a 45-page brief filed Friday, Attorney General Tim Griffin asked the Arkansas Supreme Court to reverse a Pulaski County Circuit judge’s ruling that invalidated the law’s emergency clause and dismiss the case.

An emergency clause allows a law to go into effect immediately instead of 91 days after the end of the legislative session. Because of a lower court’s ruling last month, the LEARNS Act will not go into effect until Aug. 1. 

Pulaski County Judge Herbert Wright ruled on June 30 that 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. 

Griffin filed an appeal on July 3 and the Arkansas Supreme Court granted his request for expedited review on July 12.

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In Friday’s brief, Griffin argued the circuit court lacked jurisdiction in the case because sovereign immunity bars the suit and because the case presents a nonjusticiable political question. 

Additionally, he disputed plaintiffs’ claims that lawmakers did not take separate votes on the bill and its emergency clause, as required by the state’s Constitution. Lawmakers have for decades taken a single vote and recorded it as two separate votes in the House and Senate journals, which serve as the official record of the General Assembly’s actions, Griffin said. 

“The circuit court invalidated the longstanding practice of allowing legislators to simultaneously indicate their votes on a bill and its corresponding emergency clause while recording those votes separately,” he said. “But that practice is faithful to the Constitution, which defines a vote by what was recorded in the journals and says nothing about how legislators indicate that vote.”

Griffin also pointed out that legislators can expunge a failed emergency-clause vote without affecting the passage of the underlying legislation. This illustrates that the votes are considered separate because “legislators simply can’t expunge half a vote,” he said.

Appellees’ brief is due by noon on Aug. 11. Griffin’s reply brief is due by noon on Aug. 18.


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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.