Friday, September 22, 2023
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Judicial Reform Bill|Advances in Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) - The Oklahoma House approved a judicial reform bill that would let voters decide whether the governor should get more than three candidates to consider for each appellate court appointment.

The lower house approved House Bill 3162 by 58-34 vote Thursday. If approved by the state Senate it will go to voters at the November general election.

Introduced by House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, the "Oklahoma Appellate Courts Accountability Act" would amend the state constitution to require the state's 15-member Judicial Nominating Commission to send a list of all qualified applicants for appellate court vacancies to the governor. The current system has the commission submit only the top three candidates for a vacancy.

"The JNC can then choose to score each applicant on a 0-10 scale and provide that information to the governor," House Press Secretary Jason Sutton said. "Upon nomination by the governor, the nominee would then be confirmed by a select committee of five House members appointed by the House Speaker and five Senate members appointed by the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate. The minority party in each chamber would be guaranteed at least one appointment from the House and one appointment from the Senate to the select committee."

H.B. 3162 would apply to Oklahoma Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals and Court of Civil Appeals vacancies only. The selection process for district, associate district and special judges would not be changed.

Hickman said his bill "brings needed but reasonable reform" to the selection process for appellate judges while "maintaining the current process" for district-level vacancies.

"Both sides of this issue did not get everything they wanted in this proposal but I believe it will create more accountability and keep in place the integrity of the Judicial Nominating Commission," he said in a statement Friday.

H.B. 3162 seeks to amend sections of the Oklahoma Constitution enacted after a bribery scandal in 1965 resulted in the impeachment of Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Napoleon Bonaparte Johnson and the implication of several others.

The commission and governor were inserted into the appointment process and voters were allowed to elect the high court's justices. Cases that were determined to have been bought were set aside and reopened.

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