Trent England | January 30, 2018
Three important judicial reforms
This article was published in OCPA's Perspective magazine View Issue
Oklahoma’s Supreme Court district boundaries have not changed since the 1960s. While people have moved around, those lines have stayed the same for half a century. This isn’t merely unfair—it also hurts the quality of our judiciary for basic reasons described by James Madison.
In "The Federalist Papers," Madison explains that a benefit of selecting government officials from a larger population is that the odds of finding more talented people get better. This becomes even more important when seeking someone with special training and experience. There are only so many lawyers, and not just any lawyer can make a good judge. To maximize the potential quality of future Oklahoma Supreme Court justices, the lines at least need an update. Even better would be to select some Justices from anywhere in the state (“at large” is the term often used).
A bill to update the districts had bipartisan support last year, but the House and Senate still need to agree on a version to send to the Governor.
Another important reform would be to eliminate the power of the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) to blackball potential judges. This would take an amendment to Oklahoma’s Constitution, but would be well worth it. The Governor, like the President of the United States, should have the power to nominate judges without an unelected commission artificially limiting the choices. The JNC could still advise the governor and vet candidates to ensure they meet legal requirements.
Finally, the Oklahoma Senate should have the power to confirm or reject these appointments. All this would make judicial nominations a part of gubernatorial and state Senate campaigns. In other words, this reform would give Oklahoma voters some say in how judges are selected.
David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow
Trent England is the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where he previously served as executive vice president. He is also the founder and executive director of Save Our States, which educates Americans about the importance of the Electoral College. England is a producer of the feature-length documentary “Safeguard: An Electoral College Story.” He has appeared three times on Fox & Friends and is a frequent guest on media programs from coast to coast. He is the author of Why We Must Defend the Electoral College and a contributor to The Heritage Guide to the Constitution and One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. His writing has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Times, Hillsdale College's Imprimis speech digest, and other publications. Trent formerly hosted morning drive-time radio in Oklahoma City and has filled for various radio hosts including Ben Shapiro. A former legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, he holds a law degree from The George Mason University School of Law and a bachelor of arts in government from Claremont McKenna College.