Oklahoma: legislator moves to reduce state’s Supreme Court from 9 members down to 5

Efforts to tinker with the membership of state courts of last resort have surged in recent years, as I noted in this article. In many instances these efforts have been to expand courts which has led to accusations of “court packing”, however several efforts have focused on reducing numbers to remove justices that have garnered the ire of legislators.

Enter Oklahoma HB 1699 of 2017.

Under the bill the state’s Supreme Court (which is the court of last resort for civil matters; there is also another court of last resort called the Court of Criminal Appeals) would be reduced from 9 members down to 5.

The bill comes after years of acrimony by the legislature at the court’s decisions, including impeachment efforts and attempts to change the way the court is selected/appointed. For example HB 1699 was filed by a House member who had alluded to setting himself on fire over abortion rulings by the court.

Moreover, the state’s constitution allows for this sort of change by statute without voter approval, providing in operative part that the Supreme Court is to consist of “nine Justices until the number shall be changed by statute.”

HB 1699 has been prefiled for the 2017 session set to start in February.