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Betty Dickey (1940–)

Betty Clark Dickey is a former chief justice and justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court. She became the first woman to serve as the court’s chief justice.

Betty Clark was born in Black Rock (Lawrence County) on February 23, 1940, to Millard Morris Clark and Myrtle Norris Clark. She grew up in nearby Walnut Ridge (Lawrence County), graduating as valedictorian from Walnut Ridge High School in 1958, where she played forward on the girls’ basketball team. She went on to the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), where she studied education, graduating in 1962 with a BA. She married Jay Woodson Dickey Jr., a lawyer from Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) who later served as the Fourth District congressman from Arkansas, and began her career as a teacher at Pine Bluff High School and Watson Chapel Elementary School, both in Jefferson County.

During the next several years, she taught school, worked in her husband’s law office, and raised four children before deciding to attend law school. She graduated from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock with a juris doctorate in 1985 and was admitted to the bar that same year. She entered into legal practice in Pine Bluff, where she also served as assistant city attorney. She and her husband divorced in 1987.

From 1991 to 1993, she served as the commission attorney for the Soil and Water Conservation Commission. In 1995, Dickey ran a successful campaign in the state’s Eleventh Judicial Circuit, consisting of Jefferson and Lincoln counties, to become the first female prosecuting attorney in the state, a job she held until 1999, when Governor Mike Huckabee appointed her to the Arkansas Public Service Commission. In January 2003, Huckabee made Dickey his chief legal counsel, the first woman to hold that position in the state’s history. 

In early December 2004, Chief Justice W. H. “Dub” Arnold announced that he would be resigning his seat on the state’s highest court midway through his term. On December 4, 2003, Huckabee appointed Dickey interim chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court, where she joined Justice Annabelle Imber Tuck on the court. Since the position was an appointment, Dickey held the seat for only one year. (State law forbids an appointee to the position to run for that position in the upcoming election.) A new chief justice, Justice Jim Hannah, was elected in May 2004 and took office the following January. Huckabee then appointed Dickey to fill the rest of Hannah’s term as a justice on the Supreme Court, and she served until December 2006.

In 2015, Dickey was appointed by Governor Asa Hutchinson as one of three special justices to hear a case to determine which Supreme Court members would be allowed to participate in deciding a case challenging Arkansas’s gay marriage ban.

During her time on the Arkansas Supreme Court, Justice Dickey authored a notable case involving the First Amendment and freedom of the press. In Helena Daily World v. Honorable L. T. Simes, she found that a judge’s order barring newspaper coverage of courtroom testimony was an unconstitutional prior restraint on the press.

Dickey lives in Little Rock (Pulaski County).

For additional information:
“A Lady and a Scholar Coming Soon: Chief Justice Dickey.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 7, 2003, p. 4J.

“Dickey, Betty.” The American Bench: Judges of the Nation. 16th ed. Dallas, TX: Forster-Long, 2006.

Greenberg, Paul. “Lunch with the Real Betty Dickey.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 30, 1998, p. 4J.

Wickline, Michael. R. “Dickey First Woman Chief Justice in the State.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 5, 2003, p. 1A.

Cindy Grisham
Benton, Arkansas

Last Updated 8/2/2017

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