Oklahoma Supreme Court

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Oklahoma Supreme Court
Court information
Justices:   9
Chief:  $147k (Supreme); $142k (Criminal Appeals Presiding)
Associates:  $138,000
Judicial selection
Method:   Assisted appointment
Term:   Initial term 1 year; if retained, 6 years
Active justices

James R. Winchester  •  James Edmondson  •  Yvonne Kauger  •  Joseph Watt  •  Tom Colbert  •  John Reif  •  Steven Taylor  •  Noma D. Gurich  •  Douglas L. Combs  •  

Seal of Oklahoma.png

The Oklahoma Supreme Court was founded in 1907, and is the court of last resort in the state for civil matters. It is composed of nine justices each representing a judicial district, who serve six-year terms.[1]


The current justices of the court are:
JudgeTermSelected by
Justice James R. Winchester2000-2016Gov. Frank Keating
Justice James Edmondson2003-2020Gov. Brad Henry
Justice Yvonne Kauger1984-2020Gov. George Nigh
Justice Joseph Watt1992-1/10/2021Gov. David Walters
Chief justice Tom Colbert2004-1/10/2021Gov. Brad Henry
Justice John Reif2008-1/10/2021Gov. Brad Henry
Justice Steven Taylor2004-2016Gov. Brad Henry
Justice Noma D. Gurich2011-2020Gov. Brad Henry
Justice Douglas L. Combs2010-2016Gov. Brad Henry

Judicial selection

Article VII of the Oklahoma Constitution determines the selection process of the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The judge must submit their name to the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission. In the event of a vacancy, the JNC submits three names to the governor, who then appoints one to the court. The justice then serves until the next general election. If the governor does not appoint a replacement within 60 days, the chief justice then takes the responsibility.[1]


Each justice, at the time of their election or appointment, must be at least thirty years old, must be a registered voter in the Supreme Court Judicial district they represent for at least one year before filing for the position, and must be a licensed practicing attorney or judge (or both) in Oklahoma for five years before their appointment. The potential Justice must maintain their certification as an attorney or judge during their tenure in office in order to main their position.


Oklahoma Court System Organizational Chart

"The Supreme Court is part of a co-equal, bifurcated judicial system in Oklahoma, under which it handles all civil matters, and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals handles all criminal issues." The Supreme Court has the authority to "issue, hear and determine writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, quo warranto, certiorari, prohibition and such other remedial writs as may be provided by law and may exercise such other and further jurisdiction as may be conferred by statute."

In the appellate and district courts

Merit Selection through Nominating Commission Gubernatorial or Legislative Appointment without Nominating Commission Partisan Election Nonpartisan Election Combined Merit Selection and Other Methods
Oklahoma Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals, Court of Appeals NA NA District Court NA


According to the Tulsa World:

"Between 1999 and 2006, the total number of cases handled by the Oklahoma Supreme Court declined 28 percent from 1,874 cases to 1,354. At the same time, the number of opinions rendered by the court on a yearly basis also dropped. In 2006, the court rendered 99 opinions. The court has rendered as many as 250 opinions in one year, which was 2000."[2]

The Oklahoma Supreme Court does not provide statistics on annual filings and dispositions, nor does it provide annual judiciary reports.

Political outlook

See also: Political outlook of State Supreme Court Justices

In October 2012, political science professors Adam Bonica and Michael Woodruff of Stanford University attempted to determine the partisan outlook of state supreme court justices in their paper, State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns. A score above 0 indicated a more conservative leaning ideology while scores below 0 were more liberal. The state Supreme Court of Oklahoma was given a campaign finance score (CFscore) which was calculated for judges in October 2012. At that time, Oklahoma received a score of 0.33. Based on the justices selected, Oklahoma was the 14th most conservative court. The study is based on data from campaign contributions by judges themselves, the partisan leaning of contributors to the judges or, in the absence of elections, the ideology of the appointing body (governor or legislature). This study is not a definitive label of a justice but rather, an academic gauge of various factors.[3]

Notable decisions

Courtroom Weekly: Workers' compensation law upheld by OK Supreme Court, December 19, 2013


Financial disclosure

See also: Center for Public Integrity Study on State Supreme Court Disclosure Requirements

In December 2013, the Center for Public Integrity released a study on disclosure requirements for state supreme court judges. Analysts from the Center reviewed the rules governing financial disclosure in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as personal financial disclosures for the past three years. The study found that 42 states and Washington D.C. received failing grades. Oklahoma earned a grade of F in the study. No state received a grade higher than "C". Furthermore, due in part to these lax disclosure standards, the study found 35 instances of questionable gifts, investments overlapping with caseloads and similar potential ethical quandaries. The study also noted 14 cases in which justices participated although they or their spouses held stock in the company involved in the litigation.[8]


The Oklahoma State Capitol in Oklahoma City, which houses the Oklahoma Supreme Court

The court originated with five justices, but in 1917, four additional justices were appointed to deal with the increasing caseload.[9]

See also

External links



JudgeElection Vote
ColbertTom Colbert 62.6% ApprovedA
WattJoseph Watt 59.9% ApprovedA
ReifJohn Reif 59.0% ApprovedA


CandidateIncumbencyPartyDivisionPrimary VoteElection Vote
CombDouglas L. Combs   ApprovedAYes   ApprovedA
EdmondsonJames Edmondson   ApprovedAYes   ApprovedA
GurichNoma D. Gurich   ApprovedAYes   ApprovedA
KaugerYvonne Kauger   ApprovedAYes   ApprovedA


See also: 2010 State Supreme Court elections

Incumbent Steven Taylor faced retention and was retained.

Oklahoma Supreme Court
2010 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Steven Taylor Green check mark transparent.png n/a 64.88%


See also: State Supreme Court elections, 2008

John F. Reif faced retention and was retained.

Oklahoma Supreme Court
2008 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
John F. Reif Green check mark transparent.png n/a 63.2%

Tom Colbert faced retention and was retained.

Oklahoma Supreme Court
2008 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Tom Colbert Green check mark transparent.png n/a 66.1%

Joseph M. Watt faced retention and was retained.

Oklahoma Supreme Court
2008 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Joseph M. Watt Green check mark transparent.png n/a 63.7%