Arkansas Supreme Court Historical Society
Colonel and Chief Justice Henry Gaston Bunn by J.W. Looney Chief Justice Henry Gaston Bunn was the first member of the Arkansas Supreme Court to be defeated for re-election after popular election of judges was instituted in 1864. He was defeated by Joseph M. Hill in a hard fought campaign which centered on a controversy surrounding delay in the work of the court. Hill was critical of the delay during Bunn’s Chief Justiceship, which had apparently increased to well over 24 months compared to 12-15 months when Bunn took office. The controversy over the court’s handling of pending cases had received attention for some time. During both the 1900 and 1902 annual meetings, the Arkansas Bar Association adopted resolutions suggesting methods for addressing the delay. Bunn, and others, saw the solution as the addition of another justice to the bench and the use of panels or divisions to hear cases. Hill suggested longer sessions, summary disposal of some cases and shorter opinions. Criticism of the court’s work had also received public attention during the 1902 race for governor between Jeff Davis and Justice Carroll Wood. One of Davis’s favorite attacks was on the work schedule of the justices. These judges are an awfully overworked set of fellows. They come down to their offices about ten in the morning, leave at noon, come back at two and leave at four. They must be worked to death to stand such a constant strain. Upon what meat do they feed, that they are enabled to do such heavy work. Bunn had been considered for a position on the court in 1884, 1885 and 1889, but his support was limited to his home area. When Chief Justice Sterling Cockrill resigned in 1893 Governor William Fishback appointed Bunn to the position. He was then elected later in the year and re-elected in 1896. Hill defeated him in the 1904 election. Bunn was born in North Carolina June 12, 1838, and came to Arkansas in 1846. He 30
The Arkansas Lawyer
spent his early years in Ouachita County, then enrolled in Davidson College in 1859 and was a student there when war broke out. He enlisted as a private, saw duty in the Battle of Pea Ridge where he was injured, captured, then escaped, and then fought in many of the major battles in Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and North Carolina. He was wounded multiple times. He rose to the rank of Colonel and wore that title proudly. He returned to Ouachita County following service in the Confederate Army. He was admitted to the bar in 1866, served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1874, and was elected to the State Senate that same year. In the 1904 election Bunn was warmly praised by the Arkansas Gazette for his ability as a jurist and for his honesty and integrity. He had gained some attention as a result of a confrontation with then Attorney General Jeff Davis during oral arguments before the court in the well-publicized prosecution of insurance companies under a statute that, on its face, prohibited price fixing by companies regardless of where they were organized and where the acts occurred. During oral argument, Davis was putting on a histrionic performance, became heated and started to remove his coat. Chief Justice Bunn told him a gentleman would not appear in his shirt sleeves before the Supreme Court. In his later campaigns, Davis would ask audiences if he could take off his coat reminding them that the “five jackasses” of the Supreme Court would not permit him to do so. Bunn drew some attention in 1903 when he was the lone dissenter on the court in a test case involving Governor Davis’s mass veto of over 300 bills at the end of the 1903 legislative session. This action had been challenged by the Attorney General, but Davis’s action was sustained by the court with Bunn dissenting.1 In one of Bunn’s first cases when he arrived at the court, he also dissented.2 In that case, the court was con-
Colonel and Chief Justice Henry Gaston Bunn Courtesy of Arkansas Secretary of State
sidering the validity of an 1889 Act requiring payment of wages in full to the date of discharge of a railroad employee or risk payment of 60 days continued wages. Justice Burrill Battle wrote the opinion applying the right to regulate domestic corporations to this legislation. Justice Bunn disagreed. Interestingly, in future years Bunn and Battle almost always agreed in divided opinions. Bunn was married twice, first to Louisa Holmes who died a short time later. His second wife was Aralee Conolly by whom he had nine children. Justice Bunn died in El Dorado July 17, 1908, and is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Camden. Endnotes 1. Monroe v. Green, 71 Ark. 527 (1903). 2. Leep v. St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Ry., 58 Ark. 407 (1894). Judge J.W. Looney is a Circuit Judge, 18-W Judicial Circuit (Polk and Montgomery Counties) and Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, University of Arkansas School of Law. This article is provided by the Arkansas Supreme Court Historical Society, Inc. For more information on the Society contact Rod Miller, Arkansas Supreme Court Historical Society, Justice Building, Email: email@example.com; Phone: 501-682-6879.
The Arkansas Lawyer Summer 2012 Volume 47, No. 3