Judicial Reform

Staff | April 17, 2024

JNC process lacks transparency


A flier recently distributed at the Oklahoma Capitol tries, desperately, to convince lawmakers that Oklahoma’s secretive Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) should be preserved and that Oklahomans will somehow be worse off if we instead adopt the judicial-selection process developed by our nation’s Founding Fathers.

But the flier doesn’t pass the laugh test.

Currently in Oklahoma, a governor cannot select his or her own judicial nominees based on merit. Instead, a 15-member Judicial Nominating Commission controls judicial appointments.

The JNC selects up to three nominees for court positions, including the Oklahoma Supreme Court, in secret. The governor is required to choose one of those three candidates and cannot consider any other qualified individuals.

Here are a few important details about that process.

Of the 15 members of the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission, six are selected by the Oklahoma Bar Association. No other attorneys are allowed to serve. For decades, the OBA’s JNC members have overwhelmingly been Democratic campaign donors. In contrast, the governor is given six JNC appointments but can name only three from his or her own political party.

The JNC does not hold public meetings. The group does not interview candidates in public. The commission does not reveal how members vote on judicial nominees.

Senate Joint Resolution 34 would allow Oklahoma voters to eliminate the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) and replace it with the U.S. Constitution’s model for judicial selection. Under that system, a governor could select any qualified individual, but the nominee would have to receive legislative approval to be seated as a judge.

A flier handed out to lawmakers, which references a “court facts” website established by the Oklahoma Bar Association, claims that the JNC provides more “transparency” than the Founding Fathers model, because the public knows who applies for each judgeship and which three are selected by the JNC.

You read that right. Those distributing the flier claim a closed-door process dominated by a special-interest group that doesn’t keep key records or allow public viewing is the more transparent process.

If that’s transparency, one wonders what it looks like when officials try to keep the public in the dark.

In contrast, the Founding Fathers’ model would involve public meetings, public questions, and public votes whenever a nominee goes before legislators for approval. There’s a reason you see video of U.S. Supreme Court nominees being grilled during their confirmation process but never see anything similar involving Oklahoma Supreme Court nominees selected by the JNC.

The flier also claimed that the JNC “preserves our nonpartisan, independent judiciary.” This claim, implicitly, argues that we do not have a nonpartisan, independent judiciary in federal courts since those judges go through public confirmation hearings and are not selected by a JNC-style entity.

This is nonsense.

Why have JNC defenders resorted to such obvious malarkey? Because they don’t have any good arguments for the system.

The JNC is simply a relic from the era of “good ol’ boy” politics in Oklahoma where backroom deals and political connections mattered more than merit. It is designed to deter good judicial candidates from applying since they know the JNC’s closed-door processes are a farce.

Those who benefit from this “good ol’ boy” system are now desperate to keep it in place and are willing to say almost anything.


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