Oklahoma House approves plan to require constitutional challenges to laws go to a panel of “at least three judges”

The Oklahoma House voted this week to require constitutional challenges to state statutes be determined by trial court panels made up of three judges.

HB 2686 as approved would require a challenge to the constitutionality of any state statute be heard by a panel of the state’s main trial court (District). The panel would be made of “at least three district judges”: the original district judge assigned and “additional judges assigned randomly” to the case. Associate district judges could be used and where no other district or associate district judges were available a panel could operate with two judges. The bill acknowledges the state Supreme Court could also assume original jurisdiction under Art. VII, Sec. 4 (“The original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court shall extend to a general superintendent control over all inferior courts…”)

In other states such panels of three trial judges are rare and where they do exist they tend to be subject-matter focused. Kansas (§ 72-64b03) requires a three judge trial panel when there is a constitutional challenge related to the state legislature’s funding of K-12 education. North Carolina (§ 1-267.1) and Wisconsin (§ 751.035 & § 801.50) provide challenges to redistricting of state legislative or congressional districts are to be heard by a three-judge panel of the state’s general jurisdiction court. Other states such as Alaska, Colorado, and Maryland have statutes allowing the use of three-trial-judge panels to examine or set sentences in some limited number of criminal cases.

HB 2686 is pending in the Senate without a committee assignment.