Survey shows support for electing Oklahoma's appellate judges, justices

Oklahomans overwhelmingly prefer electing state appellate judges and justices compared with the existing system of using an independent commission. But the head of the Oklahoma Bar Association questions whether those taking part in the survey recall a scandal nearly 50 years ago.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Modified: August 27, 2013 at 10:27 pm •  Published: August 28, 2013
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Oklahomans overwhelmingly prefer electing state appellate judges and justices compared with the existing system of using an independent commission, according to findings of a survey released Tuesday.

But the head of the Oklahoma Bar Association questions whether those taking part in the survey recall a scandal nearly 50 years ago involving the state's Supreme Court justices, which led to the current selection process.

“Our system has shown to work very well,” said John Williams, executive director of the Oklahoma Bar Association. “The current system replaced one of those political systems that did not work well. It had corruption and problems that the current system has not allowed.”

The survey of 500 registered Oklahoma voters, conducted by North Star Opinion Research, shows that respondents by a 3-to-1 margin preferred having the appellate judges and justices elected. The poll, with an error rate of 4.4 percent, showed that 74 percent of those taking part in the poll preferred having the judges elected and 22 percent favored the commission.

The poll showed 69 percent of those surveyed would support an amendment to the state constitution that would abandon the existing commission and instead allow voters to elect all appellate judges and justices. It showed 25 percent opposed it.

It also showed that 76 percent of those responding favored term limits for appellate judges and justices while 22 percent opposed them.

The survey was conducted June 17-19, or about two weeks after the Oklahoma Supreme Court tossed out a law favored by Republicans that dealt with how lawsuits are filed, or tort reform.

The 2009 law, pushed by many in the business community and medical profession, was intended to reduce frivolous lawsuits and make the state more business-friendly, but it violated the state constitution's single-subject rule, the court ruled.

The survey was paid for by the Federalist Society, which describes itself as an organization of conservatives and libertarians seeking changes in the American legal system.

Why Oklahoma?

Oklahoma was selected for the study because of recent efforts in the Republican-controlled Legislature to change how appellate judges and justices are selected, said the study's author, Chris Bonneau, a political science associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh.