State Rep. Kevin Calvey has introduced a measure that will let Oklahomans vote on whether the state Supreme Court and other appellate judges should be elected by the people in nonpartisan elections.
Currently, the justices and appellate judges are appointed by the governor from a list chosen by the unelected Judicial Nominating Commission. House Joint Resolution 1037, if approved by the Oklahoma Legislature, would let voters decide whether or not to change the appointment process to a nonpartisan election process.
“Our current system of selecting state Supreme Court jurists is not transparent, not accountable to the people and is dominated by the lawyers’ special interest group,” said Calvey, R-Edmond. “No wonder we get outrageous state Supreme Court decisions like banning the Ten Commandments, causing extra costs on doctors and small business owners and allowing predatory abortionists like felon Dr. Patel to remain unregulated.
“Twenty-one states elect their state Supreme Court by popular election. States which elect their Supreme Courts actually rank better than Oklahoma in terms of impartiality and the competence of judges. Contrary to the special-interest hysteria of entrenched opponents of reform, the facts show that electing state Supreme Court jurists will improve Oklahoma’s judiciary, not cause problems. It is also contrary to false claims from the lawyers’ special interest group, the Oklahoma Bar Association, that Oklahoma’s current system was not necessary to prevent judicial corruption in a 1960s court bribery scandal. The truth is, the lawyers used the judicial bribery scandal as a pretext to enact Oklahoma’s lawyer-dominated judicial selection system, a system that had been proposed over 25 years earlier.”
Calvey said a November poll conducted by North Star Opinion Research of 500 registered voters had 79 percent in favor of a judicial election system versus 16 percent in favor of the current system. The poll had an even number of Republicans and Democrats.
An Oklahoma City attorney who serves as general counsel for the Oklahoma Republican Party said the poll shows that, independent of party, Oklahomans want judicial elections.
“When implemented, HJR 1037 will bring transparency to judicial selection and balance of powers between the branches of government,” said A. J. Ferate. “The poll numbers show that independent of political party, Oklahomans want change in the way state Supreme Court jurists are selected.”
“It’s time to let the people have a say on how they want their state Supreme Court chosen,” Calvey said.
State Rep. Bobby Cleveland said the state judiciary system is not nearly transparent enough for the public to hold elected judges accountable. Cleveland said he intends to file a bill during the upcoming session that would require disciplinary actions taken against judges – and the reasons behind those actions – be made public. “The public deserves and demands transparency in all branches of government, because it serves as a vital check and balance on government,” said Cleveland, R-Slaughterville. “As an equal branch of government, the judiciary oftentimes works in anonymity when compared to the executive and legislative branches. Nevertheless, it too must be accountable to the public it serves.
Cleveland said his bill will allow the public to “make better decisions at the ballot box to better ensure the highest quality of justice for our citizens.” The Legislature reconvenes on February 1.