The Arkansas Supreme Court heard a case Thursday that may foreshadow legal battles over LGBTQ protections between state and local governments nationwide.
A 2015 state law banned anti-discrimination ordinances on any basis not already included in Arkansas law. Now lawyers for the state are suing the City of Fayetteville to invalidate its municipal ordinance protecting LGBTQ citizens.
Oral arguments on both sides pivoted on what constitutes an existing protected class in the state constitution.
Fayetteville City Attorney Kit Williams argued that state anti-bullying statutes include LGBT students, thereby creating a precedent for such municipal protections. Attorney for the state Lee Rudolfsky countered that those statutes do not rise to the level of establishing a protected class.
In its legal brief, the state defends the economic justification of the state ban, saying that uniformity of policy across municipalities is best for business. The City of Fayetteville claims that their unique diversity protections attract innovation and drive commerce within the fast-growing municipality.
Since 2015, Little Rock, Hot Springs, Eureka Springs, and Pulaski County have expanded non-discrimination ordinances to include LGBTQ people.
Arkansas is one of three Republican controlled states that has enacted a state law banning non-discrimination ordinances at the local level. North Carolina’s controversial ban is among them, as is Tennessee’s.
The AP reports that 40 anti-LGBTQ bans have already been introduced in 16 states this year.
NOTE: This report is part of a package of coverage of the state Supreme Court's hearing yesterday. See Jacqueline Froelich's report here.