Oklahoma: House and Senate advance plans to change structure of state’s supreme court, end merit selection

The Oklahoma House and Senate this week advanced bills to change the way the state’s appellate courts in general, and their supreme court in particular, are selected and structured.

Supreme Court Districts

On the House side, HB 1925 approved 77-16 would change the Supreme Court judicial districts (discussed here), creating 5 district-specific and 4 at-large seats on court.

  • 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 would be 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.

Justices would still have to face statewide yes/no retention elections.

SB 213 approved 44-1 also addresses Supreme Court judicial districts. Under that plan

  • 5 justices would be selected, 1 for each Congressional District as constituted on November 1, 2017.
  • 4 justices would be selected at-large. There is no mention of selection from rural counties

Appellate Court Selection

On the selection side, the Senate advanced two constitutional amendments.

SJR 43 approved 37-8 ends merit/commission selection for the state’s appellate courts. Instead, the governor would nominate an individual and submit his/her name to the Judicial Nominating Commission for a review as “qualified” or “not qualified”. The nominee would then be subject to Senate confirmation and yes/no retention elections.

SJR 44 approved 38-7 would keep the state’s merit/commission selection system but require the Judicial Nominating Commission send the Governor 5 names (currently 3) for consideration and allow the Governor to ask for another list, for a total of 10 names. It requires the nominee be subject to Senate confirmation and provides if Senate fails to act within certain time frame(s) the nominee is confirmed by default. Once confirmed, the judges/justices would be subject to yes/no retention elections.

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