The Oklahoma Bar Association is taking a stand against current legislation that would politicize the way judges are selected in Oklahoma. State bar leaders object toSJR21, which strips the constitutional right of Oklahoma attorneys to elect the lawyers who will serve on the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC).
The OBA also opposes HJR1096, which stops a pay raise for Oklahoma judges that was recommended by the Board of Judicial Compensation, an independent salary commission created by the Legislature itself to make such recommendations. The Legislature has not increased salaries of state court judges over the last six years.
“In recent years certain members of the Legislature have taken an increasingly hostile stance towards our courts,” OBA President Renée DeMoss of Tulsa said. “Currently our courts function well and deliver fair and impartial justice to the people of Oklahoma. The perceived need to ‘fix’ problems that don’t exist is puzzling. I think most taxpayers would prefer our representatives’ focus on addressing real problems, such as underfunded schools, dilapidated roads and bridges, and even our crumbling Capitol building.”
Currently the JNC, which recommends candidates for judicial appointment by the governor, has 15 members who serve without pay. Six of the members are lawyers who are elected by members of the bar from each of six congressional districts. The proposed legislation would alter this by granting the president pro tempore of the Senate and the speaker of the House the right to each choose three of the six lawyers that sit on the JNC.
“Our current system ensures we have qualified judges serving on courts that are independent and nonpartisan,” said DeMoss. “These two pieces of legislation would weaken our courts and their ability to make decisions untainted by politics. In fact, the changes the Legislature is recommending could lead to corruption in our system. We’ve been down that road before in Oklahoma, and we don’t want to go back there again.”
The targeted legislation has taken several forms since the beginning of the legislative session in February. Most recently, the two measures appeared as amendments to other legislation and cleared a vote of the House Rules Committee. Both will now be voted on by the full House, and if passed in the House, the Senate would then be required to approve the House amendments.