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.