ARKANSAS BLACK JUDGES
In 1991 federal Judge Henry Woods approved a legal settlement to increase the number of African American judges in the state. Known as the Hunt decree, it created 10 judicial seats in five predominantly black subdistricts out of the state's 24 judicial districts. Before the decree was enacted there were no Black circuit judges. Today there are 14. Altogether there are 20 Black judges in Arkansas, and six are women.
The supporters of the Hunt decree argued that African American voters deserve equal access to the political process for electing judges. Judges have a great deal of power and make decisions that affect people’s lives, so, understandably, having judges from different backgrounds and life experiences are important.
The state judiciary is organized on three levels: appellate, circuit, and district, and the judges are elected. There are 18 Black judges in the state judiciary. At the appellate level, no Black judge has ever been elected to the state supreme court. In the Court of Appeals, Waymond Brown is the lone Black judge on the 12-member panel from seven districts. Appellate judges are elected to eight-year Terms.
Circuit court judges are elected to six year terms and hear civil, criminal, domestic relations, juvenile and probate cases. There are 126 circuit judges in the Natural State. Only 11 percent are Black. All six Black female judges are circuit judges. All the seats held by the Black judges are Hunt Decree seats except for the eighth and thirteenth districts currently held by Judges Carlton Jones and Edwin Keaton.
State and local district judges handle a variety of issues such as traffic violations and misdemeanor criminal offenses as well as civil disputes and personal property damages. District court judges are elected to four-year terms. There are only two Black District court judges, both are in Pulaski County.
Federal judges are appointed by the President. There are seven states in the 8th Circuit including Arkansas. The only two African American judges in the 8th Circuit are both from Arkansas. Judge Lavenski Smith is one of those and joined the 14-member 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2002 after being appointed by George H. Bush in 2001. The other African American, U.S. District Judge Brian Miller, was