District 17 state Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, is concerned about the potential ramifications of a bill working its way through the state legislature right now. HB 2366 would redistrict the Oklahoma Supreme Court and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, whittling down the current nine geographically-dispersed Supreme Court districts to only five, with the remaining districts being at-large, and future Supreme Court nominees able to be pulled from anywhere in the state.

District 17 state Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, is concerned about the potential ramifications of a bill working its way through the state legislature right now. HB 2366 would redistrict the Oklahoma Supreme Court and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, whittling down the current nine geographically-dispersed Supreme Court districts to only five, with the remaining districts being at-large, and future Supreme Court nominees able to be pulled from anywhere in the state.

Legislators opposing the bill, like Sharp, are worried rural communities will be ditched in favor of the most populated areas when judge nominees are sought.

District 38 state Sen. Brent Howard, R-Altus, said, “We know where those at-large nominees will come from,” referring to Oklahoma City and Tulsa Counties, where 69 percent of the registered attorneys in the state are.

Howard said the rallying cry for those in favor of the change is that the pool of attorneys is greatest in those areas, so there must be a better pool of appellate judges.

Sharp and Howard fear representation of rural Oklahoma, which still consists of more than three-fourths of Oklahoma's land area and agriculture is still provides the state a third of its economic Gross Domestic Product [GPT), will be brushed aside.

If HB 2366 is enacted, rural communities like Shawnee will not have much of a chance to have a future judge sitting on the state's judiciary, Sharp said.

Howard said the experiences from each district give perspective to the judge as they move into the appellate courts.

“I can tell you from practicing in rural and urban areas, that a judge in a smaller county has to know procedure all across the board, because he/she may see a criminal case, adoption, probate and civil case all the same day,” Howard said, “when a judge from an urban area may only see one type of case (civil or criminal) for multiple terms.”

Introduced in February, HB 2366 was approved 70-26 by the House March 6.

The bill has since been approved in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sharp said there is a major push by urban legislators to push this legislation through the process.

HB 2366's requirement to redistrict the state's judiciary based on population is not how the constitution intends it, Sharp said.

Currently, the state's judiciary districts are based on geographic area.

“Neither the U.S. Constitution nor the Oklahoma constitution envisioned a judiciary based on the shift in population,” Sharp said. “Only the U.S. House of Representatives at the federal level was to be determined by population according to the U.S. Constitution.”

Sharp said the U.S. Senate was set at two senators from each state regardless of its geographic size.

The Oklahoma house is based on population and, originally envisioned, the State senate was to represent counties, he said.

“However, during the 1960s and '70s a series of U.S. Supreme Court cases now require 50 state senates to also be determined by population,” he said. “There is not a single constitutional basis for the federal or state courts to be based on population.”

The U.S. was not created as a democracy, but as a republic, Sharp said.

“This was to insure the U.S. was not a nation of man-made laws based on the public opinion of the time, but a nation of stability based on a higher law of right and wrong [natural law].”

If HB 2366 passes, the rural areas of Oklahoma would be deprived of all legal standing in our state courts, Sharp said — and that is the purpose of HB 2366.

“Special interests representing the urban agenda have not been pleased with the state's judiciary decisions,” Sharp said.

In judicial decisions relating to water rights, mineral rights, public school, and Native American tribal agreements, the State's judiciary has rendered independent decisions that protect both urban and rural Oklahoma, he said.

“That ticks the urban special interest off who were seeking favorable court rulings to their benefit,” he said.

An independent judiciary is essential to the future of Oklahoma, he said.

“History has documented the frustration of citizens forced to accept the decisions of a political-partisan judge,” he said. “Oklahoma eliminated that political partisanship in 1967 with judicial reform that created an independent judiciary free from partisanship.”

Now, he said it appears the pendulum of history is swinging back to reinstate the political partisan corruption that led to the 1960s' exposure in justice for sale.

HB 2366 could be voted on this next week in the State Senate, Sharp said.

“Since it is likely to be signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt, this bill, if approved by the full Senate will have a devastating effect on rural Oklahoma,” he said.

District 26 state Rep. Dell Kerbs, R-Shawnee, also voted against the bill when it progressed through the House.