OK Senate Passes Judicial Reform

Senator Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, passed a significant judicial reform proposal in the Senate on Tuesday. Senate Joint Resolution 34 will give voters the opportunity to adopt the U.S. Constitution’s judicial nomination process and apply it to how justices are selected for the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

SJR34 would place a question on the statewide ballot this November to amend Oklahoma’s Constitution to repeal the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) and replace it with the U.S. Constitution’s method for judicial appointments. Under that method, the governor would appoint justices, and the Senate would confirm those appointments.

In a release Tuesday, Daniels said, “It’s never made sense to me that we have an appointed and unelected commission tell a governor which three people he or she can choose from to fill a Supreme Court vacancy. The governor is elected statewide by voters. The governor is accountable to the voters.  A commission is accountable to no one, except the handful of people who put them on the commission.

If placed onto the ballot by the state Legislature before the end of the current legislative session and approved by the voters in November, the provisions of SJR 34 would apply to future vacancies on the Oklahoma Supreme Court, the state Court of Criminal Appeals and the state Court of Civil Appeals.

Daniels says the amendment would bring the U.S. Constitution’s checks and balances to Oklahoma’s three branches of government.

“In Oklahoma, justices for our state Supreme Court are not truly nominated and vetted by our elected officials, like the U.S. Constitution mandates at the federal level,” Daniels said. “Rather, they are selected by an unelected commission, which is structured to give undue influence to the Bar Association. As a result, we have a Supreme Court that too often legislates from the bench, ignores the Legislature’s policy-making authority and does not reflect Oklahoma values.”

The JNC, established in the late 1960s, is comprised of 15 unelected individuals, nearly half of whom are appointed directly by members of the Oklahoma Bar Association. The JNC is not subject to Oklahoma’s Open Records or Open Meeting laws. This is a serious, long-existing problem for Oklahomans.

Under current law, whenever a vacancy occurs on one of Oklahoma’s three highest courts, the JNC provides a list of three names for the governor to choose from to fill the vacancy. If the governor declines to select from the list of three names, the Supreme Court’s chief justice makes the choice from the same list. The state Legislature has no role in the process, other than appointing two members to the JNC.

SJR 34 passed the Senate by a vote of 32 to 14. It now proceeds to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

Many observers of the court have questioned the role of Bar Association in Oklahoma – unelected, unaccountable, secretive, and often known for protecting “officers of the court” while absent any observable pretense of justice. The Bar Association is controlled by the Trial Lawyers Association and powers-that-be. They regularly abuse citizens. The Oklahoma Judicial System is ineffective and corrupt and everyone that has ever experienced such abuse, never forgets or forgives.

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