Oklahoma: Legislator who led effort to impeach OK Supreme Court for death penalty ruling now pushing for special court to hear death penalty appeals; court’s makeup and selection left entirely to legislature

Anger and an impeachment effort over a decision last year by the Oklahoma Supreme Court to stay an execution may result in the creation of a new court to hear only death penalty appeals and with the method of selection and terms of judges to that court left entirely to the legislature.

Oklahoma already stands alone (along with Texas) for having two separate courts of last resort to handle cases: a Supreme Court (civil) and a Court of Criminal Appeals. Last year this caused some controversy when the state’s Supreme Court issued a stay of an execution, complete with threats by the Governor to ignore the stay and articles of impeachment filed against the justices directly onto the House floor.

This year the leader of the House impeachment effort has filed HJR 1022 a constitutional amendment to create a third court of last resort: a Court of Capital Appeals. The court would “have exclusive appellate jurisdiction in capital murder cases.” Even more interesting is how the judges would be elected. The current constitution requires appellate vacancies to be filled by the governor from a list of names provided by the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission and subject to yes/no retention elections. HJR 1022, however, allows the legislature unlettered discretion in terms of the court’s composition, terms of judges, and how those judges are selected/appointed.

HJR 1022 has been prefiled for the 2015 session.