LITTLE ROCK — Former Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Donald Corbin died Monday night at age 78 after a period of illness.
Corbin served on the state’s top court from 1991 until his retirement at the end of 2014. He previously served in the state House of Representatives from 1971-81 and as a member of the state Court of Appeals from 1981-91.
After his retirement, Corbin said the Supreme Court was divided and over whether to strike down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage and accused some justices of delaying acting on the controversial issue.
Corbin said he had voted with four other justices to uphold a Pulaski County circuit judge’s decision to overturn the ban and had written an opinion for the majority, but the two-justice minority had not written a dissenting opinion by the time Corbin’s term ended.
The court still had not issued a ruling by the time the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide in June 2015. The state Supreme Court then declared the Arkansas case moot.
Corbin did write majority opinions for the Supreme Court that were issued in several other high-profile cases, including a 2014 opinion striking down a state law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. Corbin wrote that the law was unconstitutional because it created new qualifications for voting that went beyond the qualifications established in the state constitution.
Corbin also wrote the court’s 2006 decision that struck down a state policy barring same-sex couples from serving as foster parents. In 2011, the court unanimously overturned an initiated act voters had approved in 2008 to bar same-sex couples from serving as foster parents or adopting children.
A native of Hot Springs, Corbin also spent portions of his childhood in Lewisville, Texarkana and southern California. He attended the University of Arkansas but left in 1959 to join the Marine Corps.
Corbin eventually returned to the University of Arkansas and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history and sociology. He obtained his law degree from UA in 1966.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday that Corbin “always acted with integrity.”
“He was a distinguished member of the Arkansas judicial team and bar. Our prayers are with his family, and we know that he’ll be missed,” Hutchinson told reporters at the state Capitol.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Howard Brill said in a statement, “The Supreme Court of Arkansas joins the citizens of this state in honoring Justice Corbin for a life committed to public service and the pursuit of justice. His booming presence will be missed in the halls of justice. The court extends its deepest condolences to his wife, Dorcy, and to the entire Corbin family.”
Justice Paul Danielson said in a statement he was “deeply saddened by the loss of my dear friend.”
“I will miss Donny’s kindness and compassion, his sense of humor, and the wise counsel he gave me over the years. His legacy as a public servant and a friend will not soon be forgotten,” Danielson said.