Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

One might assume that with a near $1 billion budget deficit for next year added to revenue failures in the current fiscal year demanding their attention, legislators would have little inclination to consider non-budget structural changes to state government. One would be wrong. There have been no less than 20 measures filed in the House and Senate to make changes in the way Oklahoma’s Judicial Branch works. A short summary of the bills demonstrates the direction some legislators want to take the state.

HB 2339 by Rep. Chris Kannady (R-OKC) requires mandatory retirement at the age of 75 for members of the Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals and Court of the Civil Appeals. The bill applies to Justices and Judges who take office after November 1, 2016.

HB 2453 by Rep. Bobby Cleveland (R-Slaughterville) requires the Council on Judicial Complaints to provide a quarterly report to the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House providing the number of judicial complaints filed, dismissed and referred for disciplinary action. It also calls for the results of any disciplinary action to be published on the Council on Judicial Complaints website.

HB 2857 by Rep. Sean Roberts (R-Hominy) creates a statutory Code of Judicial Conduct to replace the current Code of Judicial Conduct provided by Supreme Court Rule.

HB 2892 by Rep. Sean Roberts (R-Hominy) requires a judge who has been ordered to stand trial on a criminal charge to be suspended pending resolution of the case.

HB 3096 by Rep. Jason Nelson (R-OKC) is the “Courts Act of 2016.” This is a “shell” or placeholder bill intended to be filled in with more definitive language later.

HB 3162 by Speaker Jeff Hickman (R-Fairview) provides that six attorney members of the Judicial Nominating Commission shall be appointed, three each by the Senate President Pro Tempore and the Speaker of the House. The current Judicial Nominating Commission elected by members of the Oklahoma Bar Association shall cease to exist on January 1, 2017.

HJR 1037 by Rep. Kevin Calvey (R-OKC) proposes a constitutional amendment whereby members of the Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Court of Civil Appeals would be elected at nonpartisan elections. The governor would fill vacant positions until the next general election.

HJR 1040 by Rep. Jason Murphey (R-Guthrie) imposes a 12-year term limit on members of the Supreme Court. The term limit does not apply to current Justices.

HJR 1042 by Rep. Bobby Cleveland (R-Slaughterville) proposes a constitutional amendment to require the Judicial Nominating Committee to submit to the Governor the names of all qualified candidates for a judicial office instead of three names.

HJR 1056 by Rep. Sean Roberts (R-Hominy) proposes a constitutional amendment to require the Trial Division of the Court on the Judiciary to suspend any judge during the time that a removal proceeding is pending.

HJR 1061 by Rep. Jason Nelson (R-OKC) proposes a constitutional amendment to require the Judicial Nominating Commission to submit a list of all qualified nominees for judicial office to the governor.

HJR 1063 by Rep. Randy Grau (R-Edmond) proposes a constitutional amendment to require a super majority allowing only one dissenting vote on the Supreme Court to declare a law enacted by the legislature unconstitutional.

HJR 1065 by Rep. John Jordan (R-Yukon) proposes a constitutional amendment to require the Judicial Nominating Commission to submit a list of all qualified nominees for judicial office to the governor.

HJR 1066 by Rep. Tom Newell (R-Seminole) proposes a constitutional amendment to create the “Judicial Reform Amendment.” This is a “shell” or placeholder bill intended to be filled in with more definitive language later.

HJR 1068 by Speaker Jeff Hickman (R-Fairview) proposes a constitutional amendment to clarify language involving the legislative, executive and judicial departments of government. This is a “shell” or placeholder bill intended to be filled in with more definitive language later.

SB 795 by Senator Anthony Sykes (R-Moore) requires three members each of the Judicial Nominating Commission to be appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House. The terms of the Current members of the Judicial Nominating Commission would be terminated on the effective date of the act.

SB 1246 by Senator Jason Smalley (R-Stroud) provides that when a vacancy in the office of district judge or associate district judge occurs the governor may fill the vacancy by calling a special election or by appointing from a list provided by the Judicial Nominating Commission.

SB 1293 by Senator Anthony Sykes (R-Moore) requires candidates for the office of district judge and associate district judge to run for election on a partisan ballot.

SJR 32 by Senator Anthony Sykes (R-Moore) proposes a constitutional amendment directing the governor to appoint new judges subject to confirmation by the State Senate. The role of the Judicial Nominating Committee would be limited to rating the applicants.

SJR 50 by Senator Kyle Loveless (R-OKC) proposes a constitutional amendment allowing the governor to fill all judicial vacancies by appointment with the confirmation of the State Senate. There would be no role for the Judicial Nominating Commission.