Challenges to portions of Arkansas’ education system and the state’s execution methods made their way through courts in 2013.
A long-running desegregation lawsuit approached an apparent end after decades of state spending totaling more than $1 billion. Challenges to the state’s gay-marriage ban bubbled up in state and federal court. And a group of death row inmates launched a fight over Arkansas’ new lethal injection law.
A federal judge gave preliminary approval in November to a settlement in a Little Rock-area desegregation lawsuit. The settlement would phase out special court-ordered payments after the 2017-18 school year. U.S. District Judge Price Marshall set a hearing for Jan. 13-14 to determine whether the measure is fair to the state, the school districts, educators and schoolchildren.
In state court, a lawsuit challenging Arkansas’ ban on gay marriage is moving closer to a trial. A number of same-sex couples are challenging a 2004 constitutional amendment approved by Arkansas voters, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
A state judge hasn’t set a trial date in that case yet, but the lawsuit in state court appears to be progressing more quickly than a similar challenge in federal court.
Meanwhile, nine death row inmates are suing the state over an execution law legislators enacted in 2013. That new law came about after the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the previous law in 2012, saying legislators had ceded too much control over execution procedures to corrections officials.
A judge in state court will hear oral arguments in that case on Jan. 17, marking the next step in the latest legal battle over executions in Arkansas. But it will likely be months — if not longer — before the state puts a condemned prisoner to death for the first time since 2005.
And no matter what the judge decides, the legal challenge from the nine death row inmates will almost certainly end up in front of the Arkansas Supreme Court.