LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — State officials are trying to dramatically expand legislative and executive privilege by seeking to block subpoenas issued in the legal fight over local anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people, attorneys for a northwest Arkansas city and gay rights supporters said in court filings this week.
The city of Fayetteville and the American Civil Liberties Union asked Washington County Circuit Judge Doug Martin to deny the state’s bid to cancel the subpoenas issued over a state law preventing cities from enacting anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The state Supreme Court earlier this year ruled a Fayetteville ordinance violated a state law prohibiting cities from enacting protections not covered by state law. Arkansas’ civil rights law doesn’t cover sexual orientation or gender identity.
Justices sent the case back to Martin’s court and said they couldn’t rule on the state law’s constitutionality since it wasn’t addressed in the lower court
The ACLU of Arkansas, which represents LGBT residents who have intervened in the case, has subpoenaed the state and the two lawmakers behind the 2015 state law for documents and testimony. Fayetteville is seeking depositions from the Republican lawmakers, state Rep. Bob Ballinger and Sen. Bart Hester. The attorney general’s office has called the subpoenas too broad, saying they would “eviscerate” privacy rights granted to legislators and other officials.
“This dramatic overreaction and obstruction of the civil discovery process seeks to deny intervenors (and the court) crucial evidence in this case to support what the public record already suggests: that Act 137 was enacted in order to license statewide discrimination against the LGBT community,” the ACLU said in its filing Thursday.
Fayetteville’s attorneys said the state’s expanded definition of legislative privilege would make elected officials “virtually untouchable.”
“Our elected representative lawmakers could never be questioned by our citizens about meetings and political speeches given anywhere to partisan political interest groups, nor inquire about questionable actions in securing government contracts or attempts to develop future election support,” the city said in a filing Wednesday.
Fayetteville is one of several cities that approved local protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in response to the 2015 law. In their unanimous ruling in February, justices rejected the argument from Fayetteville and other cities that LGBT protections are covered elsewhere in state law.
The state last month asked Martin to block enforcement of Fayetteville’s ordinance. Fayetteville last week asked Martin to deny the state’s request.
Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo