Oklahoma Speaker T.W. Shannon conducted a study last week to evaluate state judicial selection procedures and the possibility of term limits for judges on the Supreme Court and appellate level.
Currently, judges for the Oklahoma Supreme Court and the appellate courts are nominated by the Judicial Nominating Commission. Judges do not face term limits and only come up on a retention ballot every six years. This study sought information on the current system and explored alternative processes for selecting judges and the possible benefits and drawbacks of term limits and elections.
“The decisions of the courts affect the lives of everyone,” said Speaker Shannon, R-Lawton. “I believe the Oklahoma Supreme Court has acted at times as a ‘Super Legislature’. It is my opinion the court has attempted to derail laws and reforms that are not only constitutional, but benefit our great state and provide greater opportunity and freedom for our citizens. Now is the time to evaluate whether or not our judicial process is truly working for the people. ”
Judicial experts including Carrie Severino, the Chief Council for the Judicial Crisis Network, and former Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson testified on judicial processes and fair checks and balance practices.
Professor Michael O’Shea of Oklahoma City University School of Law said there are several possible reforms Oklahoma should consider. O’Shea suggested changing the current commission driven judicial selection process to one similar to the federal model. This model would allow the governor to choose judicial nominees and the commission would give an opinion on the nomination. He also said the current Supreme Court has failed to develop clear and predictable guidelines for the ‘log rolling provision’ which was used to strike down the 2012 Tort Reform bill.
“It may be appropriate for state judges to engage in the kind of aggressive and open ended review that the Oklahoma Supreme Court is engaging in the single subject provision, but if they do, it is not reasonable for judges to be selected by a method with as little democratic accountability as the current system,” said O’Shea.
“It is a priority of this legislature and the people of Oklahoma that our courts fairly evaluate laws and do not pick and choose what is constitutional based on an agenda,” said Speaker Shannon. “The executive and legislative branches are subject to checks and balances to make sure we are doing the constitutional will of the people. It is in the interest of the people that we investigate whether or not greater checks and balances need to be created for the judicial branch.”