The greatest political struggle at the Capitol isn’t the ideological differences between Democrats and Republicans but between rural and urban interests. A great example of this continued rural/urban political battle is HB 2366, which is currently moving through the legislative process.
As a Senator representing rural Oklahoma, there are several problems with this bill. If approved, it’d cause the state's judicial branch to be partial to urban economic and political issues - a major concern for my district and me.
HB 2366 would require the judges serving in the Oklahoma State Judicial branch to be selected based on population. Currently, they’re selected on geographic area after a thorough review of their qualifications by the Judicial Nominating Committee (JNC).
In 1965, after discovering scandal and corruption in the Oklahoma Supreme Court, the legislature adopted a modified Missouri Plan for the selection of state judges. The popular election of state judges had created influence peddling in the government branch that was supposed to be nonpartisan. The nonpartisan JNC selected judges removing the biased political influence.
Oklahoma modified the Missouri Plan to allow the local district judges and associate district judges to be locally-elected.
The 2010 census showed that Oklahoma’s population is shifting from rural to two major urban areas, Oklahoma City and Tulsa. As a result, most legislators now represent urban Oklahoma and the power of rural legislators is diminishing.
Subsequently, there’s a major push by urban legislators to get this legislation through the process.
Under the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. House is to be based on population. The U.S. Constitution created the U.S. Senate to best represent the states in an organized Republic form of government with two senators from each state regardless of its geographic size.
Oklahoma attempted a similar system with the Oklahoma House being based on population and the original intent was the state Senate would represent the interest of the counties.
Neither the U.S. Constitution nor the Oklahoma Constitution envisioned a judiciary based on the shift of population.
However, following several U.S. Supreme Court cases in the 1960s and 1970s, the 50 state Senates are also now determined by population. This has split counties into multiple sections. Subsequently, many Oklahomans don’t know who their state House Rep. or Senator is since every ten years the boundary lines change due to population shifts.
While legislatures are based on population, there isn’t a single constitutional basis for the federal or state courts to be based on population.
The U.S. wasn’t created as a Democracy but as a Republic to insure the U.S. wasn’t a nation of man-made laws based on the public opinion of the time, but a stable nation based on a higher law of right and wrong [natural law].
In judicial decisions relating to agricultural property assessments, water rights, road projects, mineral rights ownership, public school appropriation, appeals to the state level on local issues, wildlife protections, and Native American tribal agreements, the state's judiciary has rendered independent decisions that protect both urban and rural Oklahoma.
Special interests representing the urban agenda haven’t been pleased with the state's judiciary impartial and non-partisan decisions and have sought favorable court rulings for their benefit.
If HB 2366 is enacted, rural communities like the ones I serve will lose all judicial standing and won’t be able to have the opportunity to have a judge sitting on the state's judiciary.
Oklahoma has seen a major population growth in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Nearly two-thirds of the population now resides in these two metropolitan areas. Rural Oklahoma's population is shrinking but still accounts for over three-fourths of the state’s land area with agriculture providing one-third of Oklahoma’s economic Gross Domestic Product [GPT).
An independent judiciary is essential to Oklahoma’s future. History has documented the frustration of citizens forced to accept the decisions of politically-partisan judges; and now it seems history is repeating itself.
The 1996 book, "Justice for Sale" exposed how the partisan selection of judges led to corruption within the Oklahoma Supreme Court through bribery with political campaign donations and gifts. The author also related a problem of the legislature and governor having too much power over the state's judicial branch.
While there are always multiple sides to every issue, there should never be a return to a judiciary created for the sole purpose of rendering partisan and biased decisions. It appears that HB 2366 could be creating a list of problems greater than it’s attempting to remedy.
The fate of HB 2366 is now with the Senate and Governor.
To contact me at the Capitol, please write to Senator Ron Sharp, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 412, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (405) 521-5539.