Criticism of court is nothing new (Capitol Updates)

Oklahoma Supreme Court
The Oklahoma Supreme Court

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.

Last week’s decision by the Oklahoma Supreme Court to require the statue of the Ten Commandments to be removed from the capitol grounds has unleashed a predictable attack on the court by a few legislators.  Some already had an agenda that included attacking the court for their own reasons.  The decision simply provided a new opportunity to harangue against the justices.  Others are genuinely dismayed by the decision which they view to be a rejection of the values they hold to be important.

There’s little doubt, even though the numbers of legislators who lashed out are few, that once again “court reform” will occupy a prominent place on the legislative agenda next session.  The voices of those outraged by the decision will be loud and will likely be heard all session.  And these elected officials know they can tap into a sector of the public who are disaffected for various reasons and willing to jump onto most any bandwagon.  Hopefully, this will play out in a way that doesn’t permanently damage the ability of our courts to interpret the law in a fair and impartial manner, but there are no guarantees.

Sometimes when these battles occur over, really, what this country is all about it makes you feel like the society is coming unhinged.  Those on both sides of an issue wonder how normal, rational people could hold an opinion so opposite their own.  The temptation is to attribute bad faith to the opposition.  But somehow, so far we have been able to hold it together and find a way to preserve the heritage we just celebrated over last weekend.  No small part of that this is the legislative process.  Our delegates use words and maneuvers and sometimes guile to fight our battles against each other instead of deadly weapons.  Messy and ugly as it sometimes is, we’ve yet to find a better way.

It’s a good thing to remember that this kind of controversy about the basic tenants of our society is nothing new.  Those of a certain age will remember along I-40 east of Oklahoma City a gigantic sign there for many years that said in large red letters:  “IMPEACH EARL WARREN.”  Warren led a U.S. Supreme Court that, among other things, overruled “separate but equal” in favor of holding school segregation unconstitutional; required states to provide lawyers at no cost to people accused of crimes; required states to periodically reapportion legislative districts guaranteeing “one person, one vote” and required people in police custody to be advised of their constitutional rights before questioning.  Warren took the criticism philosophically.  On the wall in my office I have a Warren quote that says, “Everything I did in my life that was worthwhile I caught hell for.”  Not a bad message to remember for today’s leaders.


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.