Predictably, the controversial legislation passed by Arkansas lawmakers this year is already creating a spate of new federal litigation.
Within days, separate lawsuits were filed in the U.S. District Court in Little Rock to challenge three different laws of 2021:
• Act 309, Arkansas’ abortion law, believed to be the most restrictive in the country;
• Law 626, the state prohibition of gender-affirming medical treatment for transgender youth; and
• Act 951, a law that makes the petition process difficult for citizens.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas filed the first two lawsuits to block the implementation of these laws.
The third challenge came from Arkansas Term Limits; Liberty Initiative Fund of Woodbridge, Virginia; US term of office restrictions from Washington, DC; a Texas petition company; and three people from Arkansas and Texas who helped spread petitions.
The law will forbid abortion in all cases except to save the mother’s life. It would not punish women seeking an abortion, but would make performing or attempting an abortion an unclassified crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $ 100,000.
Arkansas-based ACLU filed on behalf of Little Rock Family Planning Services, Planned Parenthood Great Plains, and Dr. Janet Cathey filed an abortion lawsuit.
State Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, endorsed the Arkansas Unborn Child Protection Act, which was one of 20 abortion restrictions enacted in Arkansas this year.
The case was assigned to US District Judge Kristine Baker.
The passage of the bill, Rapert said, should ultimately give the US Supreme Court the chance to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling that upheld a woman’s constitutional right to continue conceiving.
Current state law allows abortions up to the 20th week of pregnancy.
Law 309, due to come into effect July 28th unless blocked in court, was passed smoothly in both houses of the Legislature (28-7 in the Senate and 76-19 in the House of Representatives). Governor Asa Hutchinson signed the bill despite saying it was unconstitutional as interpreted by the Supreme Court in the past.
That, of course, is Rapert’s point. He and others eager to bring Roe v. Seeing Wade overthrown expect the more conservative court now sitting to set a nearly half-century precedent.
ACLU of Arkansas’ lawsuit against this law was filed on behalf of four transgender youths living in Arkansas, two doctors, and their patients.
Legislation sponsored by Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, prohibits providing surgeries and hormones to anyone under the age of 18, although such surgeries are not currently performed on children in Arkansas. The law goes into effect on July 28th unless blocked.
For the record, it was also well received, with the House of Representatives passing 70-22 and the Senate 28-7. Governor Hutchinson vetoed the law on April 5, calling it “widespread government abuse”. Legislators in both chambers willingly overruled the governor’s veto.
Arkansas is the first state to pass such a law affecting health care for trans people under the age of 18.
It is another flaw in the state’s reputation for which the increasingly conservative Arkansas legislature can be thanked.
In contrast to the other two laws that emerged from the Culture Wars, Law 951 makes petitions difficult for citizens’ initiatives.
It is also different from the others because the law went into effect immediately after it was passed. The governor signed the law on April 29th.
This law changes the rules for collecting signatures on petitions for electoral initiatives.
In addition to requiring applicants to be Arkansas residents and forbidden from being paid by signature, the law would require a criminal background check of any paid candidate at the sponsor’s expense.
Senator Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, was the primary sponsor of the bill that passed Senate 26-7 and House 72-18.
She said the intent of the law is to prevent foreign interests and funds from affecting the Arkansas petition process.
The lawsuit alleges that the new rules violate the First Amendment guarantee and the equality clause of the 14th Amendment. She also claims that financial burdens will force petitioners to use volunteer recruiters, reducing the pool of recruiters available.
Each of these laws certainly deserve scrutiny by the courts, as do some of the other works of this legislature. These may only be the first few cases on the careers.