Lawmaker attempts to alter the way judges are selected are being challenged by the state’s lawyers. More than 1,800 signatures on a state bar association petition urging a “no” vote on Senate Joint Resolution 21 have been gathered in just a few days.
We’re not sure the real motivation behind the current legislation but can’t help but think it is tied to recent state court rulings that overturned new laws.
The courts, with judges that run on non-partisan, retention ballots, found laws to be unconstitutional. That’s the way the system is supposed to operate. The legislative branch makes the laws, the executive branch carries them out and the judiciary reviews them to make sure they meet the fairness test.
Changes proposed would add a political element to what has been a neutral process. It strips the bar association members of its constitutional duty to elect six attorney members of the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission. The attorneys are elected by the members of the bar from the six congressional districts that existed when the courts were reformed after a scandal in 1967.
Instead, under the proposed legislation, the six would be lawyers appointed by the Speaker of the state House and the Pro Tem of the state Senate. The 15 members are not compensated and review candidates to fill all judicial vacancies. They submit recommendations to the governor for appointment.
Some lawmakers also want to put term limits on judges in much the same manner they are term-limited. Voters have the power to term limit any elected official through the ballot box.
Efforts by the state’s legislative leadership to change the system would be damaging to the independent judiciary we now enjoy. We encourage lawmakers to redirect their energy to issues where a problem exists.
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