State Chamber: Put S.Q. 752 in place before new Court choices

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published: 24-Nov-2010

State Chamber of Oklahoma President Fred Morgan has called on the chairman of the state Judicial Nominating Commission to halt the selection process for a Supreme Court justice until the people’s will is fulfilled through implementation of State Question 752.

The question, which passed on November 2 with 63 percent support, requires that two, non-lawyer appointees be added to the commission. It also requires that none of the six non-lawyer members currently serving on the commission be related to a lawyer.

Morgan said the commission should not continue its work until the two new appointments are made by the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate, and it is confirmed that none of the six non-lawyer members are related to a lawyer.

The State Chamber asserted, in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK on Tuesday (November 23), “The people said overwhelmingly they want more non-lawyer input into the nominating process, and that cannot happen until the additional appointments are made and it is assured that the non-lawyer members currently on the commission are not related to lawyers.”

“The people of Oklahoma have said loud and clear that they want to see changes to the Judicial Nominating Committee, and until those changes occur, any nominees will be tainted by a commission that is out of line with the will of the people,” said Morgan. “This is not about who gets to make the appointment; this is about making sure this commission is in line with the will of the Oklahoma people. Currently, it is not.”

The commission has continued to move forward with its nominating process — despite passage of SQ 752 and a pending attorney general opinion at the request of the commission’s chairman — and  took applications through Nov. 19.

A winnowing of that list is imminent. Those who have applied for a position on the state High Court include Lieutenant Governor Jari Askins, a former district judge. Askins, a Democrat, lost the November 2 general election to Mary Fallin, a Republican.

Once three names are submitted by the commission to the governor for consideration, an appointment to the bench can be made at any time.

Early this month, Governor Brad Henry named  Douglas Combs to the Supreme Court, working from a process that began last summer after Justice Rudolph Hargrave announced his retirement.

The recent death of Justice Marian Opala created another vacancy. With the Combs appointment, Gov. Henry has named a majority of the Court’s members.

“It would be a mistake to make an appointment to the bench with the judicial nomination process in flux,” said Morgan. “I doubt neither Gov. Brad Henry nor Gov.-elect Mary Fallin want to see their selection questioned in court because of this issue. It is best to not rush this process, which will give the commission a chance to align itself with the will of the people.”

Note: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this story.