LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas’ highest court on Tuesday asked a state panel for an 11 percent pay raise for its justices, with the court’s chief saying the boost would put them more in line with what other states pay and citing the flurry of appeals that justices handled last month over efforts to resume the executions of death row inmates.
Chief Justice Dan Kemp asked the Independent Citizens Commission, which sets salaries for the state’s top elected officials, to increase the court’s six associate justices’ pay rates from $166,500 a year to $184,815. Kemp’s salary as chief justice would increase from $180,000 a year to $199,800 under his proposal. Other state judges, including members of the Arkansas Court of Appeals, would receive a 2 percent pay increase.
Kemp cited a survey of judicial salaries from the National Center for State Courts that showed Arkansas’ Supreme Court salaries rank 29th among the states.
“We think it’s necessary to have this pyramid, or tiered system,” Kemp said.
A handout detailing Kemp’s proposal also mentioned the number of appeals the court handled last month over Arkansas’ initial plan to execute eight inmates over an 11-day period. Arkansas put four inmates to death last month after the court halted three of the executions and a federal court stopped a fourth.
“You expect to have one appeal every once in a while, probably a couple a year is what you figure going in, but to have seven or eight within a two-week period is unprecedented. … I just wanted to make the commission aware of that,” Kemp told reporters after speaking to the commission.
A lawmaker who had criticized the court over the executions being halted called the salary proposal a poor message to send to the public.
“I would not know how to defend that in the aisle at Wal-Mart talking to a single mom with three kids,” Republican Sen. Bart Hester said. “How do you defend that?”
The commission, which was formed as part of a constitutional amendment that voters approved in 2014, did not take any action on Kemp’s proposal. A competing proposal from the Arkansas Judicial Council called for a 2 percent pay raise across the board for all judges, including the high court. The state Supreme Court received an 11 percent pay raise two years ago when the panel first began setting salaries for elected officials.
Before the 2014 amendment, the salaries had been set in the state constitution, which allowed the Legislature to make cost-of-living adjustments.
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