In “Good government should be goal in choosing judges” (Our Views, Oct. 4), The Oklahoman discussed a form of judicial “reform” for the state. While I disagree with many of the sentiments expressed in the editorial, I do agree with one statement: “The power to choose judges is the power to fortify, or to undermine, the rule of law.” This is absolutely correct.
Fifty years ago, when justice was for sale, politicians appointed and confirmed Oklahoma's appellate justices. There was no check on that authority. The result was a bribery scandal inside the highest state court. Oklahomans found a new process and it still works.
A Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) was created by constitutional amendment in 1967. Today, the 15 JNC members are appointed in various ways. The Oklahoma Bar Association elects six of its attorney members, the governor appoints six nonlawyer members and three nonlawyer members are appointed at large — one by the president of the Senate, one by the speaker of the House and one selected by at least eight members of the JNC.
The membership is carefully designed to represent the various geographic parts of Oklahoma and the congressional districts, as they existed in 1967. While the legal expertise of attorneys is represented, by law a majority of the membership must be nonattorneys. No political party is allowed to dominate the membership.
The JNC's mission is to provide the governor with three candidates for appointment to an open appellate position on the Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals or the Court of Civil Appeals. Those candidates are determined based on qualifications and merit, not politics or the ability to raise political dollars. The governor then selects from among the three qualified candidates and makes the judicial appointment.
The rule of law has been fortified as a result of choosing these judges correctly. We enjoy a court system that's both fair and impartial. Cases have been decided based on the state constitution and current law. Most important, the court has protected our rights as Oklahomans.
Political interference in the courts would end that protection. Going back to letting the politicians appoint the justices with no check on that authority just puts politics squarely back in our courts. The courts should remain nonpartisan and nonpolitical.
We paid the price of political interference 50 years ago. We don't need to relive or repeat bad history to know the outcome. Oklahoma has a fair, impartial, nonpolitical, trustworthy system of justice. Let's keep it working without the political interference.
Stuart, of Shawnee, is president of the Oklahoma Bar Association.