OK Court Creates Chaos, Uncertainty

Can Oklahoma’s economy continue to grow and its people thrive if businesses lack certainty in our legal system? Unfortunately, we may find out.

Members of the Oklahoma Supreme Court recently issued a ruling that contradicted one of the court’s prior rulings, but refused to provide a written opinion explaining if they are overturning their prior decision or see some fundamental difference between the two cases.

The lack of legal clarity reduces business confidence in Oklahoma, which makes it less likely people will invest money in our state and create new jobs.

In this latest case, the Oklahoma Supreme Court was asked to review the legality of an initiative petition that would place a minimum-wage proposal, State Question 832, before voters. The proposal  would raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2029 and then automatically escalate the wage based on changes in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers.

Effectively, that would base the minimum wage in rural Oklahoma on the cost of living in places like San Franscisco and New York City. If the price index grows at the same rate as the last three years, the State Chamber and the Oklahoma Farm Bureau noted Oklahoma’s mandatory minimum wage could reach $35.61 per hour within 15 years.

In a previous 1995 case, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a state law that required the Oklahoma Labor Commissioner to adopt the prevailing wage as determined by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The court held that law violated the non-delegation doctrine of the Oklahoma Constitution because it delegated state power to an administrative arm of the federal government.

Opponents argued the same problem exists with SQ 832, which again tries to delegate state power to the U.S. Department of Labor.

But the Oklahoma Supreme Court waived off that concern and ruled the proposal can proceed. Why? The court majority wouldn’t say, refusing to provide a written opinion that explained why this case differs from the 1995 case or if the court is overturning its 1995 opinion.

One suspects the justices opted to not issue an opinion because they know their ruling is untethered from legal reality.

This is only the latest instance of dubious legal action by the Oklahoma Supreme Court on issues important to Oklahoma businesses. The court has previously struck down all or portions of laws reforming the state’s workers’ compensation system and limiting liability for “non-economic” damages in lawsuits. Many of those prior opinions provided little grounding in law.

The court’s threadbare ruling on the minimum-wage issue highlights, once again, the importance of overhauling the judicial-selection process in Oklahoma. We need a system that produces judges whose rulings and opinions are grounded in law, not random political whims.

About the author: Jonathan Small is president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

Editor’s Note: For more on critical reform needed in Oklahoma’s Judicial System and the shocking influence of the self-serving Bar Association that manipulates the system, click here.

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