To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Friday, April 23, 2021

Observercast

Merit Retention Of Judges

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Editor’s Note: The State Chamber’s diabolical effort to politicize Oklahoma’s merit retention process for the state’s highest courts is part of a national effort – financed by the likes of the Koch Brothers – aimed at planting right-wing justices on state Supreme Courts.

As the editorial cartoon [above] demonstrates, those who would have higher court judges make decisions based on politics and public opinion, rather than an impartial reading of the law, are attempting in Florida to rewrite that state’s Constitution to give the state Senate power to confirm or reject Supreme Court appointees.

The merit retention process has served ALL Oklahomans well – which is why the State Chamber and its allies are working overtime to hoodwink voters into thinking the state’s highest courts are loaded with “activist judges” who must be defeated.

Baloney. What the State Chamber and Co. want is to give Republican Gov. Mary Fallin the opportunity to appoint judges who will be reliable votes for the corporate elite – to hell with fairness or impartiality.

The Observer urges voters to retain all judges on this year’s ballot.

BY SHARON MARTIN

Chief Justice John Roberts, in his confirmation hearing in 2005, said, “Judges are not politicians. They cannot promise to do certain things in exchange for votes.”

Fortunately for us, Supreme Court Justices in Oklahoma are chosen through a merit-selection system. Justices don’t run for office. Instead, a judicial nominating committee gives the governor three suitable names from which he or she must choose a justice.

After serving two years, the new justice will appear on the state ballot. Voters decide if the judge, running unopposed, will be retained. After that initial vote, justices face the voters, unopposed, every six years.

This year, we will vote whether or not to retain four Supreme Court Justices, Noma D. Gurich, Yvonne Kauger, James E. Edmondson and Douglas L. Combs. It is not our duty to ask if these justices are liberal or conservative, although we can look at the website, courtfacts.org, to see what governor appointed them. It is our duty to retain them.

The State Chamber of Commerce’s Civil Justice Council has come up with a scale on which to rate justices, labeling them pro-business or anti-business. They are rating the justice’s decisions as to whether they “tended to broaden or restrict civil liability.” What does that mean, anyway? And what criteria did they use to decide?

Business owner are liable if they cause injury or harm. They are liable if they break the law. The judges who rule against a business owner aren’t anti-business, they are pro-law.

Forget the nonsense that judges must be pro-business. What judges must be is unbiased.

Our democracy demands that justices and judges be independent. The very idea that an organization should politicize the retention of judges who have proven themselves fit to serve restricts the rights of us all.

Supreme Court Justices can’t campaign. They can’t even rebuff lies that are told about them in editorial pages. But they can be impeached if they show themselves to be unfit. If you have good reason to bring impeachment proceedings against a judge, do so; otherwise, keep them in office to do their job, which is simply to follow the law.

Sharon Martin lives in Oilton, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer

 

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Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton became editor of The Observer in September 2006. Previously, he served nearly two decades as the Dallas Morning News’ Oklahoma Bureau chief. He also covered government and politics for the San Jose Mercury News, the Dallas Times Herald, the Tulsa Tribune and the Oklahoma Journal.