Oklahoma Supreme Court
The Supreme Court consists of the Chief Justice of Oklahoma, a Vice-Chief Justice of Oklahoma, and seven Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of Oklahoma, who are nominated by the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission and are appointed by the Governor. After appointment by the Governor, the Justices serve for a term of six years. After their first term, Justices must file for direct election from the people of Oklahoma to retain their position.
Unlike most states, Oklahoma has two courts of last resort. The Oklahoma Supreme Court determines all issues of a civil nature, and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals decides all criminal matters. The Supreme Court has only immediate jurisdiction when new first impression issues, or important issues of law, or matters of great public interest are at stake. In addition to appeals from a trial, issues come to the Supreme Court within its general superintending control over all inferior courts, agencies, commissions and boards created by law, with the exception of the Court on the Judiciary and the Senate sitting as a Court of Impeachment.
Oklahoma Supreme Court rulings on ballot measures
|Year||Type||Ballot measure||Legal issue||Plaintiff||Defendant||Court ruling||Impact|
|1992||Abortion||642||Could initiative be enforced, if it passed?||Nancy Feldman, Kim Little and the Oklahoma Attorney General||Oklahoma Coalition to Restrict Abortion||Court said measure couldn't appear on ballot||Measure was removed from ballot|
Unlike the Supreme Court of the United States, the Oklahoma Constitution does specify the size of the Supreme Court. However, the Legislature maintains the power to fix the number of Justices. According to Article VII section 2 of the Oklahoma Constitution, the Supreme Court shall consist of nine justices, one justice from each of the nine judicial districts of the State.
Qualification, nomination, appointment and tenure of Justices
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.
If a potential Justice meets these requirements, they must submit their name to the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) to verify that they will serve if appointed. In the event of a vacancy on the Supreme Court, after reviewing potential Justices, the JNC shall submit three named to the Governor, out of whom, the Governor appoints one of the three to the Supreme Court to serve until the next general state election. However, if the Governor fails to appoint a Justice within sixty days, the Chief Justice of Oklahoma may appoint one of the nominees, who must certify their appointment to Oklahoma Secretary of State.
Each time a Justice of the Supreme Court is elected to retain their position in the general state elections, they will continue to serve for another six years in office with their term beginning on the second Monday in January following the general election. Justices appointed to fill vacancies take up office immediately and continue to serve in their appointed post until the next general election. In order to be eligible to stand for re-election, each Justice must, within sixty days before the general election, submit their desire to stand for re-election to the Secretary of State.
The Justice is then put to election by the people of Oklahoma. If the majority votes to maintain the Justice, the Justice will serve for another six-year term. However, if the Justice declines re-election or a majority of the voters vote the Justice down, the seat on the Supreme Court shall be considered vacant at the end of the current term and the Judicial Nominating Committee must search for a potential replacement. Any Justice that has failed to fill for re-election or was not retained by the people of Oklahoma in the general election is not eligible to immediately succeed themselves.
Retention in office may be sought for successive terms without limit as to number of years or terms served in office.
The current Justices of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, in order of seniority, are:
|Name||Year of Birth||Age||Birthplace||District||Appt. by||Year app.||Years retained||Prior Positions|
|James Winchester (Chief Justice)||1953||53||Clinton, Oklahoma||5th||Frank Keating||2000||2002||Private practice (–1982); Associate District Judge for Caddo County (1983); District Judge for the Sixth Judicial District of Oklahoma (1983–1997); U.S. Administrative Law Judge (1997–2000)|
|James Edmondson (Vice-Chief Justice)||1945||61||Kansas City, Missouri||7th||Brad Henry||2003||n/a||Private practice (1973–1976); Assistant District Attorney of Muskogee County (1976–1978); Assistant U.S. Attorney for Eastern Oklahoma District (1978–1980); Acting U.S. Attorney for Eastern Oklahoma District (1980–1981); Private practice (1981–1983); District Judge for the 15th state Judicial District (1983–2003)|
|Rudolph Hargrave||1923||81||Shawnee, Oklahoma||8th||David L. Boren||1978||1984, 1990, 1996, 2002||Private practice (1949–1951); Assistant Attorney for Seminole County (1951–1955); Private practice (1955–1964); County Judge for Seminole County (1964–1967); Superior Judge for Seminole County (1967–1969), District Judge for 22nd state Judicial District (1969–1978); Associate Justice of Oklahoma (1978–1989); Chief Justice of Oklahoma (1989–1991)|
|Marian Opala||1921||85||Łódź, Poland (naturalized in 1953)||3rd||David L. Boren||1978||1980, 1982, 1988, 1994, 2000||Private practice (1953–1968); Administrative Director of the Oklahoma State court system (1968&ndash:1977); Oklahoma Worker's Compensation Court (1977–1978); Associate Justice of Oklahoma (1978–1991); Chief Justice of Oklahoma (1991–1992)|
|Yvonne Kauger||1937||68||Colony, Oklahoma||4th||George Nigh||1984||1990, 1996, 2002||Private practice (1969–1972); Judicial Assistant to Hon. Ralph B. Hodges (1972– 1984); Associate Justice of Oklahoma (1984–1997); Chief Justice of Oklahoma (1997&ndash:1998)|
|Joseph Watt||1947||59||Austin, Texas||9th||David Walters||1992||1996, 2002||Private practice (1973–1985); Altus City Attorney (1980–1985); Private practice (1986–1989); Special District Judge for Jackson County (1985–1986); Associate District Judge of Jackson County (1986–1991); General Counsel to the Office of Oklahoma Governor (1991–1992); Associate Justice of Oklahoma Supreme Court (1992–2003)|
|Steven Taylor||1949||57||Henryetta, Oklahoma||2nd||Brad Henry||2004||n/a||Associate District Judge in the 18th Judicial District of Oklahoma (1984–1994); Judge of the 18th Judicial District (1994–2004)|
|Tom Colbert||1949||56||Oklahoma City, Oklahoma||6th||Brad Henry||2004||n/a||United States Army the Criminal Investigation Division (1973–1975); Assistant Dean at Marquette University Law School (1982–1984); Assistant District Attorney in Oklahoma County (1984–1986); Private practice (1986–2000); Attorney for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (1988–1989 and 1999–2000); Judge of Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals (1999–2004); Chief Judge of Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals (2004)|
|John Reif||?||?||Skiatook, Oklahoma||1st||Brad Henry||2007||n/a||Assistant District Attorney for Tulsa County, Special District Judge for Tulsa County (1981-1984), Judge on Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals (1984-2007)|
*As of 2006, the average age is 66 years.
Jurisdiction and Powers
Section 4 of Article VII of the Oklahoma Constitution outlines the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Oklahoma. The appellate jurisdicton of the Supreme Court is co-extensive with that of the State’s borders. The Court’s jurisdiction applies to all cases “at law and in equity” except criminal cases, in which the Court of Criminal Appeals has exclusive appellate jurisdiction. If in any event there is any conflict in determining which court has jurisdiction, the Supreme Court is granted the power to determine which court has jurisdiction, with not appeal from the Court’s determination. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in general superintendent control over all inferior courts in the Oklahoma Judiciary and all Agencies, Commissions and Boards exercising power by the Oklahoma Constitution.
Along with Texas, Oklahoma is one of two states to have two courts of last resort; the Oklahoma Supreme Court decides only civil cases, and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals decides criminal cases. The Oklahoma Supreme Court only has immediate jurisdiction with respect to new first-impression issues, important legal issues, and cases of great public interest. In addition to appeals from the trial courts, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has jurisdiction over all lower courts, excluding the Oklahoma Court on the Judiciary, and the Oklahoma Senate, when that body is sitting as a Court of Impeachment. Judgments of the Oklahoma Supreme Court with respect to the Oklahoma Constitution are considered final.
The Supreme Court has power 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. Any Justice on the Court make issue the writ of habeas corpus to any person held in custody upon petition by or on behalf of that person. Such writs can be made to appear the Justice who wrote it, before the Oklahoma Supreme Court (or other Appellate Courts), before any District Court, or before any judge in the State.
General administrative authority over all courts in Oklahoma is granted by the Oklahoma Constitution to the Oklahoma Supreme Court and is exercised by the Chief Justice of Oklahoma. However, this power to govern inferior courts dose not extend to the Oklahoma Court on the Judiciary or the Oklahoma Senate when acting as a Court of Impeachment. This authority includes the power to temporary assign any judge to a court other than that for which he was selected. The Supreme Court also maintains the power to appoint an administrative director and staff. This director serves at the pleasure of the Court to assist the Chief Justice in his administrative duties and to also assist the Court on the Judiciary when the Court on the Judiciary calls upon the office’s administrative powers.
Aside for hearing cases, Supreme Court is also responsible for administering the state's entire judicial system. The Court establishes rules of operation for all other courts in the state. The Supreme Court formulates the rules for practice of law, which govern the conduct of all attorneys, and it administers discipline in appropriate cases. Additionally, many of the Justices make personal appearances to speak to members of the Bar, civic clubs, and educational groups. These appearances are made in an attempt to help all citizens understand the Court's workings and to inform them of the decision-making process. The Justices are also called upon to administer official oaths of office to public officials.
Judicial officers are charged with maintaining the integrity and independence of the judiciary. All Justices and Judges are required to be nonpartisan and are forbidden from using their office or powers to promote or otherwise assist any private interest. In order to maintain their non-partisanship, Justices and Judges can not hold offices in political parties, may not make speeches for candidates, or make, directly or indirectly, contributions to campaigns of any candidate for any elected or appointed office.
Justice and Judge are forbidden from campaigning for their re-election unless there is an active opposition to their retention of office. Even if a Justice or Judge is actively campaigning for retention, they can not personally raise funds for their campaign.