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Annabelle Davis Clinton Imber Tuck was the first woman elected justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court and, as a trial judge, wrote the original order that reshaped the financing of public education in the state. While a chancery judge in Pulaski County in 1994, she issued an order declaring the state’s system of funding and operating its public schools unconstitutional and gave the Arkansas General Assembly two years to produce schools that guaranteed every child the same opportunity for a good education, as the state constitution required. Ten years later, the case, Lake View School District No. 25 v. Huckabee, resulted in sweeping reforms, including school consolidation and changes in tax structures, that the Supreme Court declared had finally complied with the judge’s original order. In the interim, in 1996, she was elected justice of the Supreme Court without opposition. She was reelected twice before retiring.
Annabelle Davis was born on July 15, 1950, in Heber Springs (Cleburne County) to Leonard W. Davis, who was an agricultural extension agent, and Anna Inez Marsh Davis, who was a schoolteacher. She was the youngest of several children, one of whom died before Davis was born; another child was stillborn.
Needing better pay after losses in the cattle market, her father took a job with the International Cooperation Administration, predecessor to the U.S. Agency for International Development, when Davis was five, and the family moved to La Paz, Bolivia, where her father worked with campesinos to improve their farming methods. She attended a British school at La Paz, but five years later, her father was transferred to Brazil, and she lived and went to school in Rio de Janeiro for four years while her father commuted to drought-stricken northern regions.
When her father was transferred to Nigeria in 1964, she returned to the United States to live with her brother’s family in a Maryland suburb of Washington DC, where she finished high school. In 1971, she graduated from Smith College, a private liberal arts college for women in Northhampton, Massachusetts, with a degree in political science. She undertook paralegal training in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before moving to Houston, Texas, along with her new husband, Lee Clinton, to work and attend the Bates College of Law at the University of Houston. She and Lee Clinton had a son.
In 1975, Annabelle Clinton moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County), finished law school in 1977 at what is now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law, and joined the law firm of Wright, Lindsey and Jennings. In 1984, Governor Bill Clinton (no relation to her husband) appointed her to a vacant criminal division judgeship on the Pulaski County Circuit Court. Four years later, she was elected chancery and probate judge for Pulaski and Perry counties.
She and Lee Clinton divorced, and she married Ariel Barak Imber in 1990. She converted to Judaism.
It was in the role of chancery and probate judge in 1994 that she handed down the first ruling in the Lake View school case. The tiny Lake View School District in Lake View (Phillips County) sued the state on the grounds that the vastly unequal funding of schools in Arkansas violated the constitutional promise that the state would provide a “suitable” education for each child and that the educational opportunities would be equal regardless of where a child lived. She found that the state did not live up to the promise and gave the legislature two years to meet its constitutional obligation.
The Arkansas General Assembly in 1995 passed three laws altering the state’s methods of funding schools and proposed a constitutional amendment that dedicated twenty-five mills of property taxes in each school district as state funds, which would be redistributed to schools based on their needs. The amendment was ratified, but Lake View and other districts contended that the laws were ineffective remedies. The Supreme Court returned the case to Pulaski County in 1996 for a fuller trial on the inadequacies of the system.
Judge Imber was running for the Supreme Court, and the case was reassigned to Judge Collins Kilgore. Kilgore’s ruling fortified her decision, and the case returned to the Supreme Court. Supreme Court rulings in 2002 and afterward produced sweeping changes in taxes and school administration and a permanent mandate that the legislature fund an adequate statewide school program before anything else.
As a justice, Imber was the author of the first decision by the Arkansas Supreme Court removing the legal prohibitions against homosexual activity. The U.S. Supreme Court, upholding state laws making homosexual activity illegal (Bowers v. Hardwick, 1986), had found no privacy protection for same-sex couples in the U.S. Constitution and no such rights under the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. But Imber found those rights in the Arkansas Constitution in Jegley v. Picado, which the Arkansas Supreme Court rendered in 2002. The next year, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed its ruling in Bowers and found those protections in the U.S. Constitution.
Imber’s opinion was cited as precedent in 2011 when the state Supreme Court struck down an act adopted by the voters in 2008 that barred same-sex couples from adopting children or serving as foster parents, and again in 2014 when Circuit Judge Chris Piazza struck down the state’s constitutional prohibition against same-sex marriages and civil unions.
Her husband died in 2001, and she married Henry Tuck in December 2009. She retired on January 1, 2010. She was inducted into the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame in 2018.
For additional information:“Annabelle Imber Tuck.” Arkansas Times, August 28, 2014, pp. 28–29. Online at http://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/arkansas-visionaries-2014/Content?oid=3437933 (accessed October 20, 2014).
Blomeley, Seth. “First Woman Elected to State’s Supreme Court Will Retire.” Arkansas Democrat Gazette, September 11, 2009, pp. 1A, 4A.
“Her Honor Retires.” Arkansas Democrat Gazette, September 15, 2009, pp. 4B.
Larry Jegley v. Elena Picado, et al, Supreme Court of Arkansas, July 5, 2002. 80 S.W.3d 332.
Pierce, Susan. “Annabelle Davis Clinton.” Arkansas Democrat, June 26, 1988, pp. 1, 10.
Ernest Dumas Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated 5/22/2018
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