The Arkansas Supreme Court unanimously reversed a Washington County circuit judge’s decision to continue enforcement a Fayetteville city ordinance that extended protections to LGBTQ people, ruling it a violation of state law.
Fayetteville City Attorney Kit Williams argued in favor of the ordinance in Little Rock on Thursday morning, but the justices ultimately decided to reverse the decision, he said.
“As a long-time lawyer, I was just frankly shocked at the verdict,” Williams said. “We feel like (the Arkansas Supreme Court) was confused about the procedure of our argument that the unconstitutionality of the state law would not invalidate our ordinance.”
Williams made two arguments in favor of the 2015 ordinance, which prohibits any form of discrimination against LGBTQ people, including the hiring and firing decisions of employers and the service of LGBTQ people at any business, according to the ordinance.
“First, we felt it did comply with state law because of particular legal grounds,” Williams said. “Secondarily, if it was interpreted not to comply, then it would be a violation of equal protection laws.”
Washington County officials have argued with Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge since the ordinance passed. Williams thinks the issue should have been argued in a trial court instead of an appellate court, where it was argued this morning, he said.
“(The appellate court) should not take up issues of the constitution,” Williams said. “It was apparent to me that during oral arguments, the court was not agreeing with our circuit judge.”
Williams and his team are already working to organize a rehearing with the state Supreme Court, where he will attempt to provide the court with more information so the justices understand why the ordinance is necessary, he said.
“Petitions for rehearings are rarely granted, but they are occasionally, which is why we’re doing it,” Williams said. “We might even take it to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
The Arkansas Supreme Court does not offer comments or quotes of any kind, according to a statement from the Supreme Court clerk’s office. The court’s verdicts stand for themselves, according to the statement.
The court’s decision helps ensure uniformity of the state’s anti-discrimination laws, Rutledge said in a press release.
“These decisions show that the City of Fayetteville is not above or immune from state law,” Rutledge said.
Fayetteville Alderman Mark Kinion, who helped to write the ordinance in 2015, was very disappointed with the verdict, he said.
“I think that (the Arkansas Supreme Court) did not adequately provide justice by not allowing any arguments,” Kinion said. “Instead they went down a road that said (arguments) should not be considered at all.”
Kinion thinks that because the ordinance Fayetteville residents passed the ordinance, it should have local control over the citizens’ vision for the city, he said.
“I saw it coming after the first hearing when I was down in Little Rock,” Kinion said. “You could tell they were going down a road of not listening to our arguments because they were trying to find a procedural loophole.”
Kinion said the verdict effects not only himself but the community at large.
“We worked so hard on it,” Kinion said. “It is just so heartbreaking – not just for me, or even the gay community. It was heartbreaking that justice was not served.”