Oklahoma: angry at recent state supreme court decisions, plan approved by House cmte would vacate all appellate courts, end merit/commission selection

Citing displeasure at recent state supreme court decisions on abortion drugs, removing a Ten Commandments monument from capitol grounds, and other rulings the Oklahoma House Elections and Ethics Committee approved on a 4-3 vote a plan to remove all sitting members of the state’s appellate courts and change the way they are selected. (h/t Gavel Grab)

Under HJR 1037 as amended (amended text here) “Any previously stated right to a judicial seat provided for in this Constitution is hereby extinguished.” All sitting appellate judges would have to face off in 2018 in nonpartisan elections.

Currently the state’s constitution provides for a merit/commission based system for the Justices of the Supreme Court and Judges of the Court of Criminal Appeals; by statute the same system applies to the Court of Civil Appeals.

The state’s constitution creates a 15-member Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC):

  • 6 non-attorney members appointed by district by the Governor to a 6 year term
  • 6 attorney members elected by the active member of the bar in the district to a 6 year term
  • 1 non-attorney members selected from the state at-large by the Speaker of the House to a 6 year term
  • 1 non-attorney members selected from the state at-large by the Senate President Pro Tempore to a 6 year term
  • 1 non-attorney members selected from the state at-large by the other members of the JNC to a 6 year term

When a vacancy occurs, the JNC sends three nominees to the governor who must select from the list. If the governor fails to do so within 60 days, the chief justice picks.

In lieu of this system the legislature is considering not only HJR 1037 but several other options:

Keep merit/commission, alter list of names

HJR 1042 (all appellate courts) Provides JNC to send a list of “all qualified” nominees to governor in rank order.

HJR 1061 (all appellate courts) Provides JNC to send a list of “all qualified” nominees to governor.

HJR 1065  (all appellate courts) Provides JNC to send a list of “all qualified” nominees to governor.

End merit/commission, replace with quasi-federal system

SJR 32 (all appellate courts) Allows governor to appoint any qualified person with Senate confirmation. Keeps JNC, but provides sole role is to rate governor’s nominee “qualified” or “not qualified” before submission to the Senate.

SJR 50 (all appellate courts) Allows governor to appoint any qualified person with Senate confirmation.

End merit/commission, replace with elections

HJR 1006 (Supreme Court only) Provides that 6-members of the court are to be elected by district, 3 statewide. Provides political parties are to nominate candidates but party labels are not to appear on the ballot.

HJR 1037 as amended (all appellate courts) Provides for nonpartisan elections on a statewide basis/ballot. Vacates all appellate seats and requires judges run in 2018.