Bench Memos

The Oklahoman Endorses Move Away from Missouri Plan

In late August I reported on the steps being taken by Oklahoma legislators to reform their state’s judicial-selection process, a move that Oklahomans support by wide margins. According to a poll recently released by the Federalist Society, 69 percent of registered voters would support an amendment to the state constitution to replace the state’s current method of selection, the Missouri Plan, with contested elections.  

Now local efforts to adopt reform are getting a boost from the state’s largest newspaper, the Oklahoman, which published an editorial on Friday arguing that “the current system is hardly run by people virtuously placing state interest above self-interest.” According to the editors:

 [The Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission] is based on a plan pioneered in Missouri. But a book by Richard A. Watson & Rondal G. Downing, “The Politics of the Bench and the Bar” (1969), reviewed the first 25 years of merit selection in Missouri and concluded that it largely replaced the political concerns of the broad public with the internal politics of the legal profession. 

Overall, there’s little evidence that judges selected by nonpartisan commissions are more qualified than those selected through direct election or other means. 

Three judicial reform bills passed the Oklahoma Senate this year and could be taken up in the House next session. One measure would allow the governor to select judicial nominees who would then be screened by the Judicial Nominating Commission and subjected to Senate confirmation, creating multiple layers of review. Another bill would set a 20-year term limit for judges. A third would allow the governor to select the chief justice, who oversees the entire judiciary, including local district court.

This is a very positive development for those of us who hope Oklahoma will join the growing number of states that are embracing judicial-selection reform.

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