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Arkansas high court sides with Gov. Sanders, state lawmakers in education overhaul case

The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in favor of a procedural vote that allowed Republican Gov. Sarah Sanders' education overhaul to take effect immediately.

The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the procedural vote that allowed Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' education overhaul to take effect immediately, rejecting a judge's ruling that threw into question the way state laws have been fast-tracked into enforcement over the years.

The state Supreme Court's 6-1 decision has no effect on the education law that the Republican governor signed in March and is already in effect. The law created a new school voucher program, raised minimum teacher salaries and placed restrictions on classroom instruction pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity before the fifth grade.

But the ruling rejects the argument that the Legislature violated the state constitution with its votes for the measure to take effect immediately. Opponents of the law argued that the emergency clause for the law, which requires a two-thirds vote, should have been taken up separately from the legislation. Lawmakers commonly vote on a bill and its emergency clause at the same time.

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Justices ruled that this approach for the education law was constitutional, noting that the votes are recorded separately in House and Senate journals.

"The House Journal indicates a separate roll call and vote for the emergency clause. Likewise, the Senate Journal indicates a separate roll call and vote for the emergency clause," Justice Barbara Webb wrote in the ruling. "Thus, according to the official record, the emergency clause was passed in compliance with article 5, section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution."

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Sanders, who took office in January, hailed the ruling.

"Today’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of the LEARNS Act is a historic victory for Arkansas parents, teachers, and students," she posted on X, formerly Twitter, calling the ruling a "crushing defeat" for opponents of the law.

Ali Noland, an attorney for the plaintiffs who challenged the law, criticized the court's decision and said the lawsuit was moot for two months since the overhaul was already in effect.

"Today’s Arkansas Supreme Court ruling makes it much harder for Arkansans to hold their government accountable for willfully violating the Arkansas Constitution," Noland said in a statement.

Justices in June lifted the Pulaski County judge's order that blocked enforcement of the law. Without the emergency clause, the law wouldn't have taken effect until August.

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