Judicial Reform

Senator ‘outraged’ by Dobbs wants to stop Oklahoma judicial reform

March 4, 2024

Trent England

State Sen. Kay Floyd, leader of the eight Democrats in the Oklahoma Senate, wants to keep the status quo for choosing judges. She opposes a proposed amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution that would replace the current, secretive process with one modeled on the Constitution of the United States.

In a press release on Friday, Sen. Floyd “criticizes the move to politicize the state’s judicial system,” and makes all kinds of wild claims about what will happen if Oklahoma uses the nation’s most time-tested method of selecting judges. Previously, Sen. Floyd has condemned pro-life court decisions while claiming that pro-abortion decisions are sacrosanct.

It’s worth asking: Why is one of Oklahoma’s most left-leaning politicians worried?

Senate Joint Resolution 34, which is headed to the Senate floor, is modeled closely on the U.S. Constitution. The governor would nominate judges who would then be confirmed (or not) by the legislature. Everything would happen out in the open.

That’s not how it works today with the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC). The unelected commissioners meet in secret and have unilateral power to limit who the governor can appoint to Oklahoma’s most important courts. There is no involvement by legislators or other public process in the current system. And the only lawyers who can be on the Commission are chosen by … lawyers.

Sen. Floyd is a lawyer, so she has a vote in who serves on the JNC and probably knows some of its members. But unless you’re a member of the Oklahoma Bar Association or one of a few elected officials, you have no say and no way to know what goes on as the JNC controls our courts.

The secret system that benefits lawyers also seems to produce judges that do what Sen. Floyd cannot do in the legislature—like stop pro-life legislation. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has repeatedly struck down pro-life laws over the last few years. Sen. Floyd demands those decisions not be questioned: “the Oklahoma Supreme Court is a separate branch of government with equal power to that of the Legislature. … Disputing their ruling undermines the foundation of our democracy.” Yet when the Supreme Court of the United States returned power over abortion to state legislatures, Sen. Floyd was “outraged,” calling the decision “radical and wrongly decided.”

What Sen. Floyd really wants is judges who circumvent the will of the people in favor not of law but of her own left-leaning policy preferences. If she can’t win at the ballot box, she’ll win in the courts thanks to the JNC’s shadowy judicial nominating process. That is neither democracy nor the rule of law—it’s just power politics. Thankfully, the Legislature appears poised to send Senate Joint Resolution 34 to voters.