Judicial Reform

Three important judicial reforms

January 30, 2018

Trent England

This article was published in OCPA's Perspective magazine View Issue

Oklahoma’s Supreme Court district boundaries have not changed since the 1960s. While people have moved around, those lines have stayed the same for half a century. This isn’t merely unfair—it also hurts the quality of our judiciary for basic reasons described by James Madison.

In "The Federalist Papers," Madison explains that a benefit of selecting government officials from a larger population is that the odds of finding more talented people get better. This becomes even more important when seeking someone with special training and experience. There are only so many lawyers, and not just any lawyer can make a good judge. To maximize the potential quality of future Oklahoma Supreme Court justices, the lines at least need an update. Even better would be to select some Justices from anywhere in the state (“at large” is the term often used).

A bill to update the districts had bipartisan support last year, but the House and Senate still need to agree on a version to send to the Governor.

Another important reform would be to eliminate the power of the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) to blackball potential judges. This would take an amendment to Oklahoma’s Constitution, but would be well worth it. The Governor, like the President of the United States, should have the power to nominate judges without an unelected commission artificially limiting the choices. The JNC could still advise the governor and vet candidates to ensure they meet legal requirements.

Finally, the Oklahoma Senate should have the power to confirm or reject these appointments. All this would make judicial nominations a part of gubernatorial and state Senate campaigns. In other words, this reform would give Oklahoma voters some say in how judges are selected.