Arkansas voters may see several different court races on their ballot this month. Early voting is under way for judges in Arkansas and Election Day is Tuesday, May 24.
These court races are in addition to the primaries being held for Democratic and Republican candidates for local and state offices. Judge candidates are listed on both party ballots. Voters also have the option to ask for a judicial ballot if they do not want to vote in either party primary.
Judge positions are non-partisan roles, which means candidates are not identified on the ballot as a Democrat or Republican. Arkansas voters adopted this practice by approving Amendment 80 to the Arkansas Constitution in 2000. Before then, these roles were identified by party.
Just as Arkansas is divided into 75 counties, the state is divided into multiple court districts with judges serving or representing specific communities. An easy way to grasp the court system is to think of a multi-layer cake. Each layer shrinks in size the higher up it is on the cake.
We explain the various courts below.
What is a District Court in Arkansas?
There are at least 32 District Courts in Arkansas, where judges serve four-year terms. To qualify for this position, a person must be a registered voter and have worked as an attorney for at least four years.
If you’ve ever received a traffic ticket or a city code violation, you’ve been assigned to district court. These judges hear less serious issues involving lower dollar amounts and misdemeanors.
What is a Circuit Court in Arkansas?
There are 28 “judicial districts” in Arkansas. Circuit court judges in these judicial districts serve six-year terms. Candidates must have lived in Arkansas for at least two years, be a registered voter, and have had their law license for at least six years. Candidates must be at least 28 years old.
If you’ve ever gotten called for jury duty at the county courthouse, you’ve been to circuit court. These judges hear felony cases in their district. They oversee juvenile court. They hear civil cases involving divorce, wills, estates, guardianship, etc. They hold jury trials or decide the outcome themselves.
Some circuit court judges serve multiple counties, and some stay within one county.
What is the Arkansas Court of Appeals?
Arkansas is divided into seven districts for the Arkansas Court of Appeals. There are 12 positions on this court, where judges serve eight-year terms.
Candidates must have lived in Arkansas for at least two years and have practiced law for at least eight years. A candidate must be at least 30 years old.
Judges on this court hear appeals of decisions made at the Circuit Court level. Judges review whether mistakes or errors were made by juries or a judge’s interpretation of the law.
Decisions made by the Arkansas Court of Appeals are final for most cases that do not qualify for further consideration by the Arkansas Supreme Court.
What is the Arkansas Supreme Court?
This is a seven-member court, where judges serve eight years as Supreme Court justices. They are elected by voters statewide.
Candidates must have lived in Arkansas for at least two years and worked as an attorney for at least eight years before running for office. A candidate must be at least 30 years old.
Judges on this court hear certain appeals from circuit courts and the Court of Appeals. In limited circumstances, a person can file a lawsuit or request directly to the Supreme Court for action.
The court hears cases involving constitutional issues, death penalty appeals, government-related cases, election issues, and issues with other judges.
The Arkansas Supreme Court also sets the rules and procedures that attorneys in the state must follow.