Judicial reform bill advances in the State Senate

The Oklahoma Senate approved a bill that would allow voters to change the way judges are nominated in the state of Oklahoma.

House Bill 3162, authored by Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman and House Speaker Jeff Hickman, places a state question on the ballot for November to allow voters to change the section of the constitution that provides for filling vacancies for judges.

“The current judicial nominating process is highly political, not transparent, and vests too much influence into the hands of trial lawyers in Oklahoma,” said Bingman, R-Sapulpa. “This measure would remove the outsized influence of trial lawyers, allow the governor to select from a wider and more diverse pool of qualified attorneys, and ultimately return power to the people by allowing their directly elected representatives in the Senate to confirm or reject the men and women nominated to serve as judges in Oklahoma.”

The liberal Oklahoma Supreme Court has been criticized for several decisions in favor of legalized abortion and against religious liberties.

The bill would call for the governor to submit the names of his or her judicial nominees to the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC), which would issue an advisory rating of “qualified” or “not qualified.” The governor’s judicial nominees would then require confirmation by the Oklahoma Senate.

Currently, the JNC consists of six attorneys selected by the Oklahoma Bar Association, six commissioners appointed by the governor, one commissioner appointed by the Senate President Pro Tem, and one commissioner appointed by the House Speaker. The remaining commissioner is selected by the other members of the JNC.

Bingman said the reforms would mirror the federal system, where the president has the ultimate authority and responsibility to appoint judges and the U.S. Senate has the authority to confirm or reject judicial appointees. In Oklahoma, the responsibility for judicial nominations is not as clear cut, nor is the judicial nominating process as open, Bingman said.