Legislative leaders urge Judicial Nominating Commission Chair to follow will of the people

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published: 26-Nov-2010

Earlier this week, the Tulsa World reported that Judicial Nominating Commission Chairman Allen Smallwood indicated he intends to move forward with the process to nominate a new Supreme Court justice, in spite of changes made by Oklahoma voters to his commission this month with passage of State Question 752.

Smallwood criticized the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate for not yet making their new appointments to the commission as required by the question, saying: “If the will of the people is being thwarted, it’s (by) the speaker and president pro tem,” Smallwood said in the Tulsa World. “I would have expected them to appoint their two commissioners by now, and they would have been welcomed with open arms.”

But House Speaker-elect Kris Steele and Senate President Pro Tempore Designate Brian Bingman cannot make their appointments until they are officially elected by their full bodies in January. Two days ago (Wednesday, November 24), the two men issued the following joint statement about Smallwood’s position to continue with the nomination process, despite a clear will of the Oklahoma people to have more input into judicial appointments.

“Mr. Smallwood has made the case of why we must slow down,” said Steele, a Shawnee Republican recently chosen by Republicans as Speaker-elect. “Until legislative leaders are eligible to make their appointments in January the Judicial Nominating Commission should not proceed. We are not thwarting the process and will be ready with our appointments as soon as we can do so by law.”

Bingman, a Sapulpa Republican who is now President Pro-Tempore-elect, said in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, “I will gladly nominate a commissioner after January 4th. Clearly even Mr. Smallwood questions his own timing, otherwise he would not have requested a legal opinion from the attorney general regarding the new law.”

If Smallwood and the Commission continue with the nominating process, six of the 10 members left of the commission will be lawyers, giving them a majority voice into the appointment. That is specifically what the passage of S.Q. 752 was meant to prevent, Steele and Bingman contend.

“Chairman Smallwood said he will only stop the process if told to do so by the governor or the attorney general, but he obviously has forgotten that he works for the people of Oklahoma first and foremost. The Commission should not continue its work until the people have a majority voice, not lawyers.”

Bingman and Steele agree with Smallwood’s comments reported in  The Oklahoman that “it would be bad to have a Supreme Court appointment made and later overturned through a lawsuit.”
In a separate statement, Fred Morgan of the State Chamber has also argued that new selections by the commission should await selection of commissioners appointed in keeping with S.Q. 752 provisions.