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Ray Thornton
Member of the United States House of Representatives
In office
January 3, 1991 – January 1, 1997
Preceded by Tommy F. Robinson
Succeeded by Vic Snyder
Member of the United States House of Representatives
In office
January 3, 1973 – January 3, 1979
Preceded by David Pryor
Succeeded by Beryl Anthony Jr.
Arkansas Attorney General

In office
Preceded by Joe Purcell
Succeeded by Jim Guy Tucker
Personal details
Born Raymond Hoyt Thornton Jr.
(1928-07-16)July 16, 1928
Conway, Arkansas
Died April 13, 2016(2016-04-13) (aged 87)
Little Rock, Arkansas
Political party Democratic
Religion Churches of Christ

Raymond Hoyt "Ray" Thornton Jr. (July 16, 1928 – April 13, 2016) was an American attorney and politician. He was a Democratic U.S. Representative for Arkansas' 4th congressional district from 1973 to 1979 and the 2nd district from 1991 to 1997.[1]

Life and career

Thornton was born in Conway, Arkansas. A graduate of Sheridan High School, Thornton earned a degree in political science from Yale University and, later, a Juris Doctorate from the University of Arkansas School of Law at Fayetteville, Arkansas. He served in the United States Navy during the Korean War, during which he reached the rank of lieutenant.[2]

Thornton returned to law school after returning from Korea and obtained his law degree in 1956. After election as Arkansas Attorney General in 1970, he was elected two years later to Congress. He defeated fellow Democrat Richard S. Arnold of Texarkana in the primary. Thornton went on to serve three terms in the House. He served as a member of the Judiciary Committee and considered articles of impeachment against U.S. President Richard Nixon. He was among three southern Democrats and four moderate Republicans who drafted the articles adopted by the committee.

Thornton did not run for a fourth term in the House. Instead, he ran for the Senate, but narrowly lost a runoff berth in the Democratic primary to his colleague from the Second District, Jim Guy Tucker, who was then defeated in the runoff by outgoing Governor David Pryor. Pryor then defeated a liberal Republican, William T. Kelly Jr. in the general election.

After his defeat in the Senate race, Thornton became involved in education, serving as President of Arkansas State University and then the University of Arkansas System from 1984 to 1990. In 1990, Thornton ran for Congress in the Little Rock-based district and won by a comfortable margin over the Republican nominee, Jim Keet, then a state representative and the subsequent unsuccessful 2010 GOP gubernatorial nominee against Mike Beebe. Thornton left Congress after another three terms until his retirement in January 1997.

Thornton served as a justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court from 1997 to 2005. After retiring from the court, he became the first public service fellow for the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. In 2009, he became the first chairman of the Arkansas Lottery Commission, which operates the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery.[3] Thornton died in Little Rock on April 13, 2016 from lung cancer.[4]

See also

  • U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton – in 1995, this case overturned term limits for U.S. Senators and Representatives.


  • Image and Reflection: A Pictorial History of the University of Arkansas; Ethel Simpson. U of Ark. Press, 1991

External links

  • Ray Thornton at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress Retrieved on 2008-03-31
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
Legal offices
Preceded by
Joe Purcell
Attorney General of Arkansas
Succeeded by
Jim Guy Tucker
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
David Pryor
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Arkansas's 4th congressional district

January 3, 1973 – January 3, 1979
Succeeded by
Beryl Anthony Jr.
Preceded by
Tommy F. Robinson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Arkansas's 2nd congressional district

January 3, 1991 – January 1, 1997
Succeeded by
Vic Snyder

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