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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: It's all about the Legislature

by John Brummett | September 5, 2021 at 1:42 a.m.

It's a standard legalism but an unfortunate word under the circumstances. "Irreparable," I mean.

House Speaker Matthew Shepherd and Senate president pro tem Jimmy Hickey signed a motion filed Tuesday in their behalf with the Arkansas Supreme Court. They were represented by their own outside lawyer for whom taxpayers foot the bill. Shepherd and Hickey evidently didn't think Attorney General Leslie Rutledge was suitable for the task of representing their augustness.

The motion seeks a stay of Pulaski Circuit Judge Tim Fox's preliminary injunction against the law banning mask mandates by schools and other state and local government entities. That's the ruling that allowed school boards across the state to require masks to protect the kids, especially those younger than 12 for whom the coronavirus vaccine is not yet authorized.

That is to say that Shepherd and Hickey want masks yanked off unvaccinated little children at school. Their special outside lawyer, coming from the Dover Dixon Horne firm in Little Rock, argues that putting masks on the little ones in school does "irreparable harm" ... not to kids piling up in the Arkansas Children's Hospital, but to the power of the state Legislature that Shepherd and Hickey lead.

Or, well, follow.

Hickey, who didn't support the mask ban, told me it was his responsibility in his official capacity to represent the prevailing view of the Senate. He said democracy depended on that.

Some might argue--or would argue, and do argue--that lives are more important and hinge on the crushing of that majority legislative view by a court imposing human justice and good sense.

Shepherd's essence is not to lead the extremist-right House but wave through its madness although it once was thought--apparently with no basis--that he was more moderate than the membership.

As unfortunate as is the use of "irreparable" in reference to harm to legislators rather than children, the rest of the pleading in behalf of Shepherd and Hickey is no better. It provides a creatively written re-invention of the legislative intent in voting to order that local schools couldn't impose mask mandates.

It asserts that the legislators' master scheme--their wise benevolent despotism--was to keep masks off children to encourage them to get the more-effective vaccinations instead.

But there are a couple of curiosities with that.

One of them is that kids younger than 12 can't get vaccines even as this Delta variant attacks younger people more than the original and with a greater infection multiplier and more fast-developing and severe illness.

The other is that legislative sponsors of the mandate ban, representing the far-right caucus, simply said at the time that it was not the government's business to tell the people what to do. No legislator is on the public record saying we'll get everybody to take the shot by keeping masks off the little children and sacrificing a few.

Legislative right-wingers seem to feel the same way about vaccines as about masks, which is that all of you should do what the hell you feel like.

The people, presumably, should be permitted to drive on the left-hand side of the road at speeds exceeding the posted limit with their young unbound children careening in the back seat while being hauled to elementary school to suck in some playmate virus.

You will recall that Gov. Asa Hutchinson also is a defendant, but he decided he was opposed to the ban that he'd signed. He hired his own lawyer to represent him in resistance to Rutledge's appeal of the circuit court ruling.

For a few hours, Rutledge pondered excusing herself from the case because her clients were divided. But then she came to her political senses by accepting that the Donald Trump cult now disguised as Arkansas Republicanism would call her "deep state" if she didn't appeal.

Shepherd and Hickey got together and decided that they needed their own lawyer, too, but wouldn't say why.

They'd have made big trouble with their memberships if they'd conceded the case or otherwise opposed their majorities' will. It would have been good trouble, but big trouble nonetheless.

I speculated--I thought sagely--that maybe they were concerned about crossfire from the governor's independent position that might endanger the Legislature's co-equal powers. I wrote that maybe they retained their own lawyer mostly to sit tight and react--play defense--in the General Assembly's balance-of-power interest, dependent on what the other lawyers argued.

But, no. It was quite the opposite. The legislative leaders took the lead to ask the Supreme Court--and who knows what those people will do--to overturn the ruling and jerk masks off those babies because legislative power must be protected.

It was as if Sen. Trent Garner was president pro tem of the Senate himself.

And he'll double as co-governor soon considering that his twin sister, Sarah Sanders, is likely to win that office.

We'll find out in the meantime if the Garner-Sanders family controls the Supreme Court, too.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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