Want to Sue Your State? In Arkansas, You Can't.
Arkansans have no right to file a lawsuit against their state government, even where the Legislature has given them permission to, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in a split decision Thursday that overturned two decades of case law.
The new precedent handed down by a 5-2 decision prompted musings throughout the day by lawyers, lawmakers and lobbyists as to what the effect would be on a wide range of cases: from simple wage disputes to criminal appeals to requests for public records.
The issue before the high court was a legal doctrine known as sovereign immunity, which, as Article 5, Section 20, of the Arkansas Constitution of 1874, simply says: "The State of Arkansas shall never be made defendant in any of her courts."
For 60 years, the Arkansas Supreme Court had taken a strict approach to interpreting that language, according to the majority opinion written by Supreme Court Chief Justice Dan Kemp. Then, in 1996, the justices reversed their precedent and began allowing the Legislature to pass laws with exemptions to sovereign immunity.