The curious announcement by state Supreme Court Associate Justice Courtney Goodson that she will run for chief justice heightens concerns that special interests are taking control of the Arkansas judiciary.

The curious announcement by state Supreme Court Associate Justice Courtney Goodson that she will run for chief justice heightens concerns that special interests are taking control of the Arkansas judiciary.


There is no doubt that we will need a new chief justice since the resignation Sept. 1 of Jim Hannah for health reasons. Gov. Asa Hutchinson almost immediately appointed longtime legal scholar Howard Brill as interim chief justice, but he cannot by law run for the position when it is on the ballots next year.


Goodson, who won a seat on the state’s highest court by defeating 2nd District Circuit Judge John Fogleman of Marion in 2010, had already been considering a race for chief justice. Hannah was facing a decision of retiring after turning 70 or forfeiting judicial retirement benefits.


That cleared the way for Goodson, and she jumped in a day after Brill was sworn in. No one else has announced for the position.


Goodson used various social media to make her announcement, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s somewhat encouraging when a public official shows some awareness of how to utilize modern media.


But her YouTube announcement raised some disturbing issues about her priorities as chief justice and indeed her priorities as an associate justice.


Pitching herself as an "outsider," she said, "The power of the Supreme Court does not rest with the justices. It rests with you, the people."


"The Supreme Court is supposed to represent your common-sense, conservative values, to uphold the rule of law, to stand up for your rights," she said. "I believe the Supreme Court should be a place where the people are in charge, where the constitution is honored, and where justice is served."


It sounds more like she would base her decisions on the latest opinion polls, rather than the law. What if those "common-sense, conservative values" conflict with the law? How do you balance the rights of the minority with the opinions of the majority?


In our democratic republic we are governed by three branches, two of which must be sensitive to public opinion. But the Founders also created a system of checks and balances, specifically charging the judiciary with the responsibility for upholding the constitutional rights of the people. That wasn’t quite enough for some of those who had seen the English government trample on their rights, and thus James Madison drafted a proposed Bill of Rights, which of course became a critical part of the U.S. Constitution.


On occasion the courts must take an unpopular course in protecting, for example, the free speech rights of some of our most outrageous citizens. That likely wouldn’t be done if "the people are in charge."


Goodson is no outsider. She doesn’t even have to resign her current position, which pays $166,500 a year, to run for a promotion to chief justice, which pays $180,000. She won a seat on the state Court of Appeals in 2008 with plenty of help from people in high places.


Her race against Fogleman was filled with scandal, including a divorce one month after her election. Financial disclosure forms showed that she had received more than $99,000 in gifts and cash from a Texarkana lawyer, John Goodson, whom she later married. It was also disclosed that she and Goodson accepted as gifts two trips valued at a total of $62,000 from a business associate of her husband. None of that was determined to be illegal.


Of greater concern is that Goodson and several other judicial candidates, including fellow Supreme Court justices, have benefitted greatly in recent elections from "dark money," or anonymous, contributions. More than $300,000 from outside groups was used for attack ads against Tim Cullen in his 2014 race against Robin Wynne, helping her win a seat on the Supreme Court.


Goodson received $25,000 from Fort Smith nursing home owner Michael Morton, part of some $100,000 he has poured into state Supreme Court elections since 2010. A circuit judge was convicted of accepting money from Morton, then reducing a jury’s award in a negligence lawsuit against one of his nursing homes.


The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that Hannah spent $151,230 on his 2000 campaign for associate justice but that 10 years later Goodson spent $657,452. That doesn’t indicate the people are in charge of this court.


Quite the contrary, getting elected to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which requires a statewide nonpartisan race, has become quite expensive. Yet under the Arkansas Code of Judicial Conduct candidates may not directly solicit campaign funds other than through a campaign committee. Further, the code "prohibits a candidate for judicial office from making statements that appear to commit the candidate regarding cases, controversies or issues likely to come before the court." That limits what judicial candidates can say to their own background and qualifications.


What we’re getting now instead are candidates who hint at their political philosophy, throwing around catch-phrases like "common-sense, conservative values." That’s good enough to win campaign contributions from special interests, some of which aren’t subject to the state’s campaign financial disclosure laws. It’s also good enough to get elected.


Let’s change the system before it’s corrupted further.