A bill that would ask voters in November to change the process for nominating appellate judges to fill judicial vacancies passed the House of Representatives.
House Bill 3162, known as the “Oklahoma Appellate Courts Accountability Act” and introduced by House Speaker Jeffrey W. Hickman, would place a state question on the ballot to allow voters to change the section of the state Constitution that sets forth the authority of the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC).
The bill would require the JNC, upon a vacancy in one of the state’s appellate-level courts – the Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals or Court of Civil Appeals, – to send a list of all applicants to the governor who meet the “constitutional and statutory qualifications” for judicial office, rather than only sending three applicants. The JNC can then choose to score each applicant on a 0-10 scale and provide that information to the Governor.
Upon nomination by the governor, the nominee would then be confirmed by a select committee of five House members appointed by the House Speaker and five Senate members appointed by the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate. The minority party in each chamber would be guaranteed at least one appointment from the House and one appointment from the Senate to the select committee.
The current process for selecting district, associate district and special judges would remain unchanged under the proposal.
The JNC is a fifteen-member panel that receives and reviews all applications for judicial vacancies in all district and appellate level courts in Oklahoma and submits a list of three applicants to the governor for consideration. Six members of the panel are appointed by the governor, six members are selected by the Oklahoma Bar Association (OBA), one member is appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and one member is selected by the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate. The final member is selected by the other members of the JNC.
Under Hickman’s proposal, all appointees to the JNC by the governor, Speaker of the House and Pro-Tempore of the Senate would serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority until replaced. The term limits of the six members appointed by the OBA and at-large selection would remain unchanged.