20 Things You Didn’t Know About The Oklahoma Supreme Court

Oklahoma Court

The Oklahoma Supreme Court is the court of last resort for appeals filed in Oklahoma. It’s not the oldest state supreme court, but it does have a rich and storied past. Whether you’re a law student learning about the judicial system or a resident of Oklahoma interested in how the Supreme Court functions, here are twenty things you probably didn’t know about the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

1. The Oklahoma Supreme Court is more than a century old

The Supreme Court of Oklahoma is not as old as some state systems. The court came into existence under the ratification of the Oklahoma Constitution. It got established in 1907. Wikipedia confirms that the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s chamber and offices were housed at the State Capitol building after its completion in the year 1917 until 2011.

2. The Oklahoma Supreme Court changed venues recently

In 2006, plans to move the offices of the Oklahoma Supreme Court began. After more than 100 years in the location at the State Capitol, the court received a new home. It moved to the Oklahoma Judicial Center. The new center now serves as the headquarters for the Oklahoma Supreme Court, the Judiciary of Oklahoma, and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. The building went up under the design of Layton, Hicks & Forsyth architectural firm, completed in 1930. The building also houses the Oklahoma Historical Society and is also on the National Register of Historic Places since 1990. The Historical Society has since moved to the Oklahoma History Center from 2005 to the present.

3. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has nine justices

The Oklahoma Supreme Court is uniquely structured. Each state determines the number of justices for their respective supreme court systems. Oklahoma maintains a panel of seven associate justices. Additionally, it includes a Chief Justice and a Vice-Chief Justice. While most state supreme courts have a Chief Justice, Oklahoma is one of the few to include a Vice-Chief Justice seat.

4. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has a different kind of appointment process

Members of the Oklahoma Supreme Court panel are nominated by the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission. Justices are appointed by the Governor. They must first be appointed. They serve their term until the next general state election, then enter in a retention election process. The public vote determines whether the candidates will begin a six-year term. Justices serve one term, they must file for direct election to keep the job.

5. The State Legislature has the power to change the number of Supreme Court Justices

The size of the Oklahoma Supreme Court panel is determined by the Oklahoma Constitution, like many other states. The laws of the land provided that the state legislature has the authority to change the number of justices on the panel. The stipulation is assured under Article VII, Section 2 of the Constitution of Oklahoma. The arrangement of Supreme Court seats requires that one justice is added from each of the state’s nine judicial districts.

6. Justices must submit their names to the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission for consideration

Candidates desiring to serve on the Oklahoma Supreme Court must go through a process that involves submission of their names to the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission. The Commission chooses among the names if a vacancy occurs on the court. They submit three names from the pool to the governor. The governor appoints one justice to the Supreme Court, who serves until the next general state election. If the governor does not make the appointment within sixty days, the Chief Justice may appoint one justice from the pool of three names, upon certification of the appointment by the Oklahoma Secretary of State. It’s a process that is different from most other state supreme court systems.

7. There are no term limits for justices on the Oklahoma Supreme Court

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has no term limits for its justices. Once appointed, each member of the panel is free to continue running in general elections of the public to retain their seats. The Constitution for the state allows for unlimited successive terms.

8. Candidates for the Oklahoma Supreme Court must meet minimum requirements

Each candidate for a seat on the Oklahoma Supreme Court must have the qualifications stipulated by the constitution to submit their names to the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission to be considered for appointment to a seat on the panel. Each justice must meet the minimum age requirement of at least thirty years of age, be a registered voter in the Supreme Court judicial district represented for a minimum of a year before they’re allowed to file for the position. In addition, candidates must either be a judge or a licensed practicing attorney, preferably both for at least five years before appointment. Candidates must maintain judge or attorney certification during tenure to retain their seats on the court.

9. Oklahoma and Texas are the only two states with two courts of last resort

Oklahoma bears similarity to the Supreme Court of Texas in some regards, but it stands out as unique in the nation. Both states have two appellate courts that serve as the courts of last resort. The Oklahoma Supreme Court hears only civil cases. It does not accept criminal cases. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals makes decisions on appeals in criminal cases. This divides the responsibilities up into two separate entities. The Supreme Court of Oklahoma decides cases of intense public interest, essential legal issues, and first-impression issues. These are the areas of jurisdiction

10. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has jurisdiction over all lower courts with exceptions

The Supreme court of Oklahoma has authority over each of the lower courts in the state except the Oklahoma Senate when it sits as a Court of Impeachment, and the Oklahoma Court on the Judiciary. The Oklahoma Constitution grants the supreme court this jurisdiction. The Oklahoma Supreme Court also has the authority to appoint staff including an administrative director to assist the Chief Justice in his duties.

11. The Oklahoma Supreme Court may reassign judges

The supreme court in Oklahoma is powerful in some aspects. It has the authority to temporarily reassign judges. This is just one more power than it is given through the Constitution of the State of Oklahoma.

12. Four Oklahoma Supreme Court justices’ terms expire in 2022

Ballotpedia confirms that four of the nine Oklahoma Supreme Court justices on the panel have terms that expire in 2022. Each justice has the opportunity to file their intentions to run for election. The justices with seats coming up for election include James R. Winchester, Douglas L. Combs, Dustin Rowe, and Dana Kuehn. The Oklahoma Supreme Court staggers the expiration dates for its justices to ensure that no more than four will expire during the same year. This measure is taken to ensure continuity on the court with the majority of experienced judges remaining should new members be added during the cycling process. There are no seats set to expire this year for the Oklahoma Criminal Court of Appeals.

13. The Oklahoma Supreme Court is different from most other state supreme courts

While most other state supreme courts provide statistics about their annual caseloads, this is not the practice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court. We learned that the court does not provide the number of cases the justices decide, but limited information may be obtained. Much of the information about the court and its processes remain private, which is not the habit of most state supreme courts. Oklahoma marches to the beat of a different drummer in these matters. They differ in structure from most. Although the court has some structural and procedural similarities to Texas, there are striking differences that set them apart. We did discover the statistics for 2020 however.

14. The Oklahoma Supreme Court decided 112 cases for 2020

Many of the state-level supreme courts saw a decline in the number of cases heard over the past few years. it is assumed that the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on their ability to gather. The total number of cases decided by the nine justices for 2020 was 112. 73 of these cases had a unanimous ruling. The writer of the majority opinion with the greatest frequency was Justice James Edmondson who wrote eleven of them. There were 58 per curiam decisions with 8 concurring opinions. The justice with the most concurring opinions was Justice Dustin Rowe with three. He also had the most dissenting opinions with eleven out of the thirty-three total dissenting opinions for the year.

15. The Oklahoma Supreme Court is Republican-controlled

Current Oklahoma s Supreme Court is under the control of the Republican Party. It is one of 27 states with court systems under Republican control versus 15 states under Democrat-controlled court systems. The Court Balance Score is 1.43. The party control may impact the ideology of the court.

16. The Oklahoma Supreme Court is conservative

Adam Bonica and Michael Woodruff of Stanford University’s study on the ideology of state supreme courts determined that Oklahoma received a score that indicates it is among the most conservative of all state supreme courts. It placed as number fourteen of all conservative courts. The study arrived at this conclusion from an analysis of data researchers collected from the judges’ campaign contributions and their partisan preferences.

17. The Oklahoma Supreme Court implements a Code of Judicial Conduct

All state supreme courts implement a Code of Judicial Conduct for their justices. These are ethical codes of conduct that asset forth the principles and guidelines for the judicial candidates and judges in the state. Each state determines the rules and the number of canons for the observance. Some states such as Texas have as many as eight canons. Oklahoma has four. The canons include the necessity of upholding and promotive impartiality, integrity, and independence of the judiciary. Justices must avoid impropriety as well as the appearance of it. They must perform the duties of the court competently, diligently, and without partiality. Candidates and judges may not engage in any political or campaign activity that goes against the established ethical codes of conduct.

18. Judges may be removed

The State of Oklahoma has made provision for the removal of judges. There are two ways that the task may be accomplished. A judge found to violate the principles and guidelines for the established code of conduct may be removed by the house of representatives, plus conviction by two-thirds of the senate for the state. The second method for removing a judge from office is through an investigation of allegations of judicial misconduct. The council on judicial complaints may recommend the removal of a judge from office via the court on the judiciary.

19. The Judicial district was reorganized

In 2019, Governor Kevin Stitt abolished the nine Oklahoma Supreme Court judicial districts. He created a new system with five congressional districts. Five of the Oklahoma Supreme Court justices represent their respective districts. The remaining four justices represent the entire state of Oklahoma. The changes to the system became effective in the year 2020. None of the sitting justices were affected by the changes. The law included the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals where similar changes were made. The previous rules were set in place in 1967.

20. The Oklahoma Supreme Court is a part of a trifecta

A Trifecta is a descriptor for a state government that is run by a single party. One political party holds the majority in both legislative chambers in state government and the Governor’s office is controlled by the same political party. The Oklahoma government has a trifecta controlled by the Republican Party. The state supreme court is a checks and balances system of any state government to ensure fairness. The Oklahoma Supreme Court is also Republican-controlled. The Republican Party has maintained control for twelve years of Republican trifectas. It has held five years of Democratic trifectas over seventeen years. The Republican Party is the dominant force in Oklahoma.

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