Oklahoma judicial term limits bill could empty state’s top courts; entire Court of Criminal Appeals could be vacant

January 30th, 2012 by Bill Raftery Leave a reply »

Unlike governors (36 states, h/t Council of State Governments) and legislators (15 states, h/t National Conference of State Legislatures), no state judges are currently subject to term limits. That may change in Oklahoma if SB 1729 is adopted.

Under its provisions, all judges/justices of the state’s top appellate courts (Supreme Court for civil matters; Court of Criminal Appeals for criminal ones) would be limited to 12 years in office.

As of the effective date of this act, no Justice shall serve on the Supreme Court for a period of more than twelve (12) years…

As of the effective date of this act, no judge shall serve on the Court of Criminal Appeals for a period of more than twelve (12) years

Given that the judges/justices serve for 1 year or so initial terms (after merit selection appointment) and 6 years in subsequent terms, this would effectively limit them to only 1 initial term, 1 full term and a portion of a second full term.

Given that the effective date of the law is November 1, 2012, the effect would be to remove 2 of the 9 justices of the state’s Supreme Court: Justice Yvonne Kauger (appointed in 1984 and up for a retention election November 6) and Justice Joseph Watt (appointed in 1992).

The impact would be even greater on the Court of Criminal Appeals and could potentially clear the court entirely:

  • 2 of that court’s 5 judges, Judge Charles Johnson (appointed 1989) and Judge Gary Lumpkin (appointed 1988) would be out of office effective November 1, 2012.
  • The 3 remaining judges (Arlene Johnson, David B. Lewis, and Clancy Smith) are up for retention elections 5 days later on November 6, 2012. If they all lost (a possibility, given that Iowa saw 3 of its Supreme Court justices lose their retention election in 2010, all on the same day) the effect would be to empty the court.

SB 1729 has been prefiled with the legislature set to come into session February 6.