LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas judge and former Republican lawmaker on Thursday announced he’s running for a seat on the state Supreme Court, which has been drawn the attention and spending by outside conservative groups in recent years.
Sebastian County Circuit Judge Gunner DeLay said he’s running for the seat currently held by Justice Karen Baker, who hasn’t said whether she’s running for reelection next year. State Supreme Court justices are elected to eight-year terms.
“The Supreme Court is the last line of defense for protecting the rights of the people; rights that include free speech, the right to bear arms, and due process of law,” DeLay said in a statement. “The stakes in the race are high because what courts decide today determines the kind of world our kids and grandkids live in tomorrow.”
DeLay, 57, who served in state Legislature from 1995 to 2003, ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for attorney general in 2006 and lost a bid for the GOP nomination for a congressional seat in northwest Arkansas in a 2001 special election.
In both races, he touted his opposition to abortion rights and gun restrictions and also called for crackdowns on illegal immigration. DeLay said his past positions wouldn’t influence him on the bench.
“It’s a different role,” DeLay told The Associated Press. “You’re not an advocate for a particular position, but you’re simply interpreting law, statutes, the constitution. The big difference is, what judicial philosophy do you bring to that process?”
DeLay was appointed to the bench by Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson in 2018 and won reelection last year without opposition.
Arkansas’ seven-member court is non-partisan, but it has been targeted by conservatives in recent years.
If elected, DeLay wouldn’t be the only member with Republican ties. Justice Barbara Webb, who was elected to the high court last year, is married to former state GOP Chairman Doyle Webb, who is running for lieutenant governor. Justice Shawn Womack, who was elected to the court in 2016, is also a former Republican lawmaker.
Justice Robin Wynne, who is seeking reelection next year, is also a former Democratic state legislator.
The Republican State Leadership Committee spent $225,000 on digital, radio and television ads supporting Webb’s candidacy to the high court. One 30-second ad by the group warned of an “out of control left.”
Outside groups have played an outsized role in Arkansas’ high court races over the years. in 2018, RSL and Judicial Crisis Network spent more than $2.8 million on an unsuccessful effort to unseat an Arkansas Supreme Court justice.