During each general election cycle, voters of Oklahoma are asked to vote on whether or not they wish to retain certain judicial officials.
This year you will be asked to vote on retaining or removing two Justices of the Oklahoma Supreme Court and four Justices of the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals.
Each Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice is placed on the ballot for retention every six years. This year Justice Steven Taylor and Justice James Winchester are up for a retention vote. Taylor was appointed by Governor Henry in 2004 and Winchester was appointed by Governor Keating in 2000.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about the court’s decision to declare a recent legislative tax increase on health insurance policies to be unconstitutional. Both of these justices voted to stop the unconstitutional tax increase.
Another important decision was rendered by the court earlier this year when it ruled that it is wrong for fees to be levied and used for government funds not related to the fees’ purpose. This was an important decision because it reinforced the principal that taxes should not be levied under the misleading designation of a fee. Taylor supported this decision, and Winchester opposed it on the grounds that he did not feel the Court had original jurisdiction in the case.
Additionally, both Taylor and Winchester have supported recent court rulings against the Legislature’s unconstitutional practice of logrolling appropriations measures, which I have written about on more than one occassion.
The four Justices of the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals who are up for the retention vote are Deborah Barnes appointed by Governor Henry in 2008, Doug Gabbard appointed by Governor Henry in 2005, John Fischer appointed by Governor Henry in 2007 and Larry Joplin appointed by Governor Walters in 1994. I am not aware of any high profile cases which these justices have been a party to in the last few months.
Since the retention ballot was developed in 1967, every justice has been retained. Should the voters decide to remove a justice from office, there is a procedure to be followed. Oklahoma’s Judicial Nominating Commission would nominate several applicants for the position and the Governor would choose a new justice from that list of applicants.
You may recall that State Question 752, which will also be on the ballot on November 2, will ask you to vote on enhancing the composition of the Judicial Nominating Commission to include two non-attorney members. Currently, nearly half the Commission is appointed by the Oklahoma Bar Association and the reforms contained in State Question 752 will allow for a more varied representation on the board.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you want additional information about these votes.