After Oklahoma Supreme Court strikes down law, OK House decides to debate term limits for justices; voters tend to reject such proposals

I mentioned that Oklahoma’s Senate had during the regular session approved a constitutional amendment to subject appellate judges to a single 20-year term. I also noted that Kansas’ House considered late in their session a plan to reduce the mandatory retirement age for judges from 75 to 65 as a form of “term limits”.

Now, just days after the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a law pushed by the Speaker of the Oklahoma House, the Speaker has announced plans to study term limits for the justices. (h/t Gavel Grab for the pointer)

Currently only New Mexico has term limits for any judges and even there it is limited to the Probate Courts. Probate Court judges need not be attorneys and handle only uncontested and informal probate and estate matters; anything involving a contested case goes to the District Court.

From 1912 when it was admitted into the Union to 1992, Probate Court judges and county clerks as county officials were allowed to serve multiple consecutive terms; all other county officials were limited to a single 4 year term and could not be re-elected until four more years had elapsed (Art. 10, Sec. 2)

The probate court judges and county clerks were swept up in a 1992 amendment (Amendment 3) that limited all county officials to two consecutive 4 year terms. A 2000 effort to eliminate the term limits outright (Question 2) failed 73-27%. A 2010 effort (Amendment 2) to extend this out to three consecutive four year terms with a two year gap was rejected 83-17%

That said, efforts to term limit specifically judges have not fared well at the ballot box.

In 2006, Colorado’s Amendment 40 would have limited the total number of years an appellate judge could serve to 10 years, required all judges then-serving with over 10 years of serving to leave (effectively clearing the appellate benches at the time) and reducing the terms of office (Supreme Court from 10 to 4; Court of Appeals from 8 to 4). It was rejected 57-43.

Nevada voters overwhelming rejected Question 9B, a 1996 effort to limit that state’s judges to two terms (or 1 full term + part of another OR two partial terms). It was rejected 59-41%.

In 1995 Mississippi voters rejected Initiative 4, an effort to term limit a litany of public officials. Included were judges, who would have been restricted to 3 successive terms. It was rejected 54-46%.

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