MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Opinion

April 20, 2014

Quash move to change judiciary

The Legislature should reject a bill to revamp the way Oklahoma Supreme Court justices and appellate court judges are selected.

An independent judiciary is essential to democracy. Judges check political imperatives that would violate people’s rights. They ensure the governor and legislators act within constitutional limits.

This bill doesn’t pass the smell test. It is fishy that the move comes in the wake of several rulings that overturned laws as unconstitutional.

Judges are screened by the 15-member Judicial Nominating Commission; the governor appoints judges from the nominees.

Six commission members are chosen by the Bar Association, one from each of the state’s congressional districts as they were in 1967. Six are appointed by the governor, again, one from each of those former congressional districts. The Senate president pro tem and the speaker of the House each appoints one member. The final member is selected by the commission.

The proposed change would remove the Bar Association from the process and split the six appointments evenly between the Senate president pro tem and the speaker of the House.

Supporters say the move would remove a non-elected body from the process and stop members of the judicial branch from having too big a role in their selection.

Attorneys have an interest in selecting competent, fair judges, because they will have to appear before them. That is not a bad thing.

But the new law also would shift power over the judiciary into the hands of legislators. It would create the potential for judgeships to become political patronage positions.

The judges are not elected, but they are subject to a nonpartisan judicial retention ballot.

The system works to ensure an independent judiciary. Don’t change it.

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