Arkansas Governor signs bill protecting the right to equality before the law

March 15, 2023 | By BRITTANY HUNTER
Sarah Huckabee Sanders in front of microphones

The Arkansas legislature just passed a law that will help ensure public service workers are not prevented from serving on the Social Work Licensing Board because of their race. This comes as a huge relief to Pacific Legal Foundation client Stephen Haile, whose race has barred him from helping his community.

Stephen and his wife have dedicated their lives to helping others in a multitude of ways. But they found their true calling in foster care.

Over the years, the couple has opened their Conway, Arkansas, home to more than 300 children, many of whom they have stayed in contact with years after their time with them had come to an end.

With so much experience working with foster children and their families, and numerous social workers, Stephen decided he could further serve his community as a member on the Arkansas Social Work Licensing Board, which regulates the practice of social work in the state.

But Stephen was prevented from pursuing a seat on the board because of his race.

The board is comprised of nine members who are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the State Senate. State law requires the board to include three licensed, certified social workers, two licensed master social workers, one licensed social worker, one psychiatrist, and one member of the public at large.

The final seat is filled by a “representative of the elderly,” someone who is at least 60 years old and not actively engaged in, nor retired from, professional social work.

To say Stephen was qualified for the job would be an understatement. Yet the law specified that of the nine board members, at least two had to be filled by black individuals. Because there are only three current openings, Stephen was significantly disadvantaged in his quest to serve on the board.

In January, Pacific Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit on behalf of Stephen Haile, challenging the legality of a law that allows for the disqualification of individuals from public service based solely on their race.

PLF was ready to help Stephen fight for his right to equality before the law, no matter what obstacles we may have to face. Fortunately, we didn’t have to.

The Arkansas State Senate just passed a bill that eliminated the racial requirement for membership on the Social Work Licensing Board, removing the unconstitutional barriers that were standing in Stephen’s way.

While the law has been on the books for decades, there had never been any serious discussion of repeal until PLF filed our lawsuit on behalf of Stephen. PLF attorney Laura D’Agostino and Legal Policy Director Daniel Dew both met with state legislators to share our concerns over the existing requirements for membership on the board. Laura testified in favor of the proposed bill.

After speaking with both Laura and Daniel, legislators amended the bill to include an emergency clause which conceded that the previous racial quota was unconstitutional, and required the bill to be immediately implemented.

We applaud the Arkansas legislature and Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders for protecting the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause, which forbids the government from racial discrimination.

This is a huge win for equality before the law and for people like Stephen who want to give back to their communities.