For the past week, Governor Sarah Sanders has attacked the Arkansas judiciary for rulings she doesn’t like, endangering our system of checks and balances.

On Friday, May 26 a judge issued a temporary restraining order on the LEARNS Act, requiring implementation of the Governor’s prized education law to be halted.

The order came after locals of Marvell, Arkansas filed a lawsuit against the state and the LEARNS emergency clause. Because of the system outlined in the LEARNS act, the state sold control of Marvell-Elaine School District to a DC-based charter school company.

Then just few days later, Attorney General Tim Griffin appealed the judge’s order to the Supreme Court. Friday, June 2 that appeal was denied, and the plaintiff’s original motion was granted an expedited hearing.

Dynamic democracy

When we see this kind of ruling, it’s democracy in action — our system functioning to protect citizens from authoritarianism. Our three-branch government, with its checks and balances, is a hallmark of our democracy. 

In Arkansas the power resides with the people; our Constitution ensures this in more ways than one. For example, citizens have the right to petition one branch of government to hold another branch accountable. This is an especially important mechanism for holding unconstitutional laws or actions to account.

Which is exactly what the citizens of Marvell-Elaine School District did when they filed their lawsuit against the state. The courts have now spoken, indicating that the claims of LEARNS being unconstitutional would likely succeed on the merits of the case.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded to the ruling by immediately calling the lawsuit “absurd” and campaigning for LEARNS harder than ever. One member of the legislature called the judge issuing the TRO an “activist judge.” Two branches of government are publicly attacking the third for upholding their oath to the Constitution.

Do not attack the system — esteem it

Basic respect among the three branches of government offers stability to us as citizens; it’s something we should be able to expect from elected officials. Criticizing the Judiciary for honoring their oath is defiance of executive norms.These norms protect the people of Arkansas from authoritarianism.

This is not the first time we’ve seen this. Back in March in the middle of the legislative session, we wrote about why three distinct branches of government, each willing to check the other’s power, is vital for our democracy. We said:

This is more than a Governor who came to play hardball. Let’s call it what it is— an unprecedented abuse of power and rejection of norms that sets a tone for what’s to come in the Sanders administration.

Sadly, we’re still witnessing the same abuse of power, all for Sanders’ political gain while Arkansans pay the price.