House effort to reduce Oklahoma Bar’s power to name members of merit selection commission dies on 46-48 vote; effort to eliminate power rejected 31-65

The effort in Oklahoma to reduce or remove the power of the state’s attorneys to select members of their merit selection commission failed yesterday in the House floor.

Several House amendments were offered to SJR 21 that would reduce or remove the power of the state’s lawyers to name 6 members of the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC). The first vote was on a plan to reduce the bar’s power by letting them elect only 2 out of  the 6 seats assigned to lawyers. That substitute amendment to Amendment 1 was rejected 46-48 (out of 101 total members).

After that amendment to the amendment failed, other amendments introduced were withdrawn or tabled. With the substitute amendment having failed, debate on the main bill started. The main proponent argued that the perception was that the bar had “drifted to the left”, had a “real” but “subtle” bias, and that the lawyers favored the plaintiff’s bar in terms of recommendations for judicial vacancies. Opponents argued that “nothing was broken”, cited to separation of powers concerns, and noted that SJR 21 would have perhaps unconstitutionally vacated the offices of the 6 currently serving attorneys in those seats.

With the loss of the amendment to reduce the role of the state’s lawyers on the JNC, the ultimate House vote on outright removing the bar’s power and letting the legislative leaders pick all 6 JNC attorney members failed on a much more lopsided vote of 31-65.