Political attack ads and protecting the “integrity of our judiciary” were points raised Friday (Feb. 26) when candidates Circuit Judge Shawn Womack and attorney Clark Mason spoke to the Northeast Arkansas Political Animals club in Jonesboro.
Both are seeking the Arkansas Supreme Court Position 5 seat being vacated by Justice Paul Danielson, who is not seeking another term. The primary is March 1.
Womack said he had the opportunity to work in the state legislature for 10 years, gaining trust from both sides of the aisle.
“The Democrats trusted me enough to chair the budget committee, while the Republicans trusted me enough to be their leader,” Womack said of the legislature.
As for the law, Womack said he believes in separation of powers and that a judge should not be in the business of making law. Womack also quoted the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia as an inspiration.
“Paraphrasing him, he said the Constitution says what it says and the Constitution does not say what it does not say,” Womack said.
Mason said his run for the Supreme Court has been about fairness. He said the debate over the state’s judiciary has not been nice, with some of the debate reaching a new low.
“It undermines the integrity of our judiciary, to say the least,” Mason said.
He said while there were very few favors a justice can give, like hiring a clerk, the main job of a Justice is to follow the Constitution.
The race this year is the first ever for Mason, who grew up in Urbana in south Arkansas. He also worked in a saw mill for three years, noting the work influenced him on his career. The work also lead to him representing agricultural and medical law, Mason said. He also spoke about the “littering of mailboxes” around the state with mailers in the Supreme Court race.
“Why are these people trying to keep me out of the Supreme Court?,” Mason asked the group, noting he has been attacked for being a trial lawyer. “They want to buy a seat on the Supreme Court. And this candidate is not for sale.”
A stint as a special Justice also influenced him, Mason said.
“That told me that this was something I wanted to do,” Mason said.
Both candidates were asked about a plan to appoint judges, similar to a plan in Missouri. Womack and Mason said they were opposed to appointing judges, saying the election of judges was the best option. Womack said the appointment of judges would create numerous conflicts of interest, while Mason said voters should play a role in picking judges.
Both were also asked about ways to stop so-called attack ads in judicial races. Womack said there was nothing much that can be done with 1st Amendment protections on political speech, noting he had no role in putting together or developing the ads for groups like the Republican State Leadership Committee. A judicial group has questioned the ad, which featured Mason.
Mason said his campaign filed a complaint over an ad involving a blog post on his law firm’s website, involving arbitration and government contracts.
“They had every opportunity to come before the commission and they did not do that,” Mason said.
Womack said he disavowed the ad within hours of seeing the ad and was upset over being implied as being part of it.
Both were also asked about the appointment of a replacement for Scalia. Womack said while it was up to the President to appoint, it was also up to the Senate to being involved in the advise and consent of judges. Mason countered that the appointment and a hearing should be done.
“The Constitution is the Constitution,” Mason said. “It does not say you can appoint unless there is a year left in the term.”