Oklahoma: House committee approves plan to change Supreme Court districts, create 5 district-specific seats and 4 at-large seats on court; 2 at-large picks must come from rural counties

The latest plan to change the way Oklahoma Supreme Court justices are picked cleared the House Judiciary – Civil and Environmental Committee yesterday.

Currently the state is divided into 9 Supreme Court districts. The state constitution requires a nominee for a vacancy on the court must be a “a qualified elector in the district for at least one year immediately prior to the date of filing or appointment.” If named to the court, they face voters statewide on a yes/no retention election.

That “qualified elector” issue has been somewhat of a contested point, as accusations have been made that the latest pick to the Supreme Court does not meet the criteria, see media reports regarding a pending lawsuit in the matter here. A special assistant attorney general has called the lawsuit “frivolous.” A hearing on that lawsuit is set for today.

Under HB 1925 as approved in committee the currently serving Supreme Court justices would continue to operate under the old 9-district system. New nominations/appointments would use a new two-part system.

  • 5 justices would be selected, 1 for each Congressional District as constituted on November 1, 2017. For transition purposes, the current seats from Districts 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6 would turn into Congressional-District based seats.
  • 4 justices selected at-large, however 2 justices must come from counties with a population of less than 75,000. The current seats from Districts 2, 7, 8, and 9 would transition to at-large.

As I noted last year when something similar came up in Washington, 10 states have some form of district system for their courts of last resort. Details on the 10 states below the fold.

  1. Florida: 7 justices appointed from 5 Appellate Districts. Each district is guaranteed at least 1 justice. Justices are retained in statewide yes/no retention elections.
  2. Illinois: 7 justices elected in partisan elections from 5 Judicial Districts. Retained in yes/no retention elections by Judicial District. The First Judicial District (Cook County) is entitled to 3 justices.
  3. Kentucky: 7 justices elected in nonpartisan elections from 7 Districts. Reelected by District.
  4. Louisiana: 7 justices elected in partisan elections from 7 Supreme Court Districts. Reelected by Supreme Court District.
  5. Maryland: 7 justices appointed from 7 Appellate Judicial Circuits. Retained in yes/no retention elections by Appellate Judicial Circuit.
  6. Mississippi: 9 justices elected in nonpartisan elections from 3 Supreme Court Districts (3 justices per District). Reelected by Supreme Court District.
  7. Nebraska: 6 justices appointed from and retained in yes/no retention elections from 6 Districts. 1 Chief Justice appointed and retained in yes/no retention statewide.
  8. Oklahoma: Supreme Court – 9 justices appointed from 9 Districts. Retained in yes/no retention elections statewide. Court of Criminal Appeals – 5 judges appointed from 5 Districts. Retained in yes/no retention elections statewide.
  9. South Dakota: 5 justices appointed from 5 Districts. Retained in yes/no retention elections statewide.
  10. Tennessee: 5 justices appointed from 3 Grand Divisions. Not more than two may reside in the same Grand Division. Retained in yes/no retention elections statewide.