Last week 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 end merit/commission based selection for the courts. Yesterday the House Rules committee approved 8-2 its own constitutional amendment (HJR 1042 as amended) which keeps the merit/commission system but with several substantial changes.
The most critical change may be the elimination of the restriction that the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) send a list of only 3 names to the governor. Instead, the JNC would send a ranked list of all qualified applicants; the list would be public but the rankings private.
In addition HJR 1042 as amended includes several provisions regarding how the JNC’s vets applications
- All JNC rules must be approved by the Supreme Court and both houses of the legislature
- Applicants cannot be asked information regarding party affiliation and JNC members cannot independently seek such information out
- Applicants who are sitting judges cannot be asked about cases currently pending before the judge
- Applicants cannot be asked about cases that may come before the applicant if appointed
- The JNC would have to provide the governor a detailed listing of the criteria used to vet applicants
- The JNC would have to proof to the governor the above restrictions and processes were adhered to
- Any person would be able to challenge (presumably in court) the JNC’s processes under laws to be passed by the legislature
If any member of the JNC violates these rules, the member would be removed and the list(s) they participated in would be voided. In addition the JNC would be obligated to create a website and publicize its rules/processes.
HJR 1042 as amended now goes to the full House.