Judicial Reform

Jonathan Small | April 1, 2024

Another dubious Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling points up the need for reform

Jonathan Small

Can Oklahoma’s economy continue to grow and its people thrive if businesses lack certainty in our legal system? Unfortunately, we may find out.

Members of the Oklahoma Supreme Court recently issued a ruling that contradicted one of the court’s prior rulings, but refused to provide a written opinion explaining if they are overturning their prior decision or see some fundamental difference between the two cases.

The lack of legal clarity reduces business confidence in Oklahoma, which makes it less likely people will invest money in our state and create new jobs.

In this latest case, the Oklahoma Supreme Court was asked to review the legality of an initiative petition that would place a minimum-wage proposal, State Question 832, before voters. The proposal would raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2029 and then automatically escalate the wage based on changes in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers.

Effectively, that would base the minimum wage in rural Oklahoma on the cost of living in places like San Francisco and New York City. If the price index grows at the same rate as the last three years, the State Chamber and the Oklahoma Farm Bureau noted Oklahoma’s mandatory minimum wage could reach $35.61 per hour within 15 years.

In a 1995 case, the Oklahoma Supreme Court had struck down a state law that required the Oklahoma Labor Commissioner to adopt the prevailing wage as determined by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The court held that law violated the non-delegation doctrine of the Oklahoma Constitution because it delegated state power to an administrative arm of the federal government.

Opponents of SQ 832 argue that the same problem exists with SQ 832, which again tries to delegate state power to the U.S. Department of Labor.

But the Oklahoma Supreme Court waved off that concern and ruled the proposal can proceed. Why? The court majority wouldn’t say, refusing to provide a written opinion that explained why this case differs from the 1995 case or if the court is overturning its 1995 opinion.

One suspects the justices opted to not issue an opinion because they know their ruling is untethered from legal reality.

This is only the latest instance of dubious legal action by the Oklahoma Supreme Court on issues important to Oklahoma businesses. The court has previously struck down all or portions of laws reforming the state’s workers’ compensation system and limiting liability for “noneconomic” damages in lawsuits. Many of those prior opinions provided little grounding in law.

The court’s threadbare ruling on the minimum-wage issue highlights, once again, the importance of overhauling the judicial-selection process in Oklahoma. We need a system that produces judges whose rulings and opinions are grounded in law, not random political whims.

Jonathan Small President

Jonathan Small


Jonathan Small, C.P.A., serves as President and joined the staff in December of 2010. Previously, Jonathan served as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma Office of State Finance, as a fiscal policy analyst and research analyst for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and as director of government affairs for the Oklahoma Insurance Department. Small’s work includes co-authoring “Economics 101” with Dr. Arthur Laffer and Dr. Wayne Winegarden, and his policy expertise has been referenced by The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, National Review, the L.A. Times, The Hill, the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post. His weekly column “Free Market Friday” is published by the Journal Record and syndicated in 27 markets. A recipient of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s prestigious Private Sector Member of the Year award, Small is nationally recognized for his work to promote free markets, limited government and innovative public policy reforms. Jonathan holds a B.A. in Accounting from the University of Central Oklahoma and is a Certified Public Accountant.

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