Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) will have the chance to appoint two new justices to the nine-member state supreme court. Justice Patrick Wyrick vacated his seat on April 10, 2019, when he was nominated to serve on the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. Justice John Reif announced in March that he would retire on April 30, 2019.
Under Oklahoma state law, the governor appoints a justice to the court based on a list of names submitted by the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission.
The nominations will be Stitt’s first two appointments to the court and will immediately shift the balance of the court from a 6-3 majority of justices appointed by Democratic governors to a 5-4 majority of justices appointed by Democratic governors.
Stitt’s appointments will serve until the next general election in 2020. They will then be on the ballot for retention with current justices Tom Colbert (appointed by a Democrat) and Richard Darby (appointed by a Republican) in a set of elections that could further change the makeup of the court.
The court’s makeup before the two vacancies was:
- John Reif (retiring) – appointed by Gov. Brad Henry (D)
- Tom Colbert – appointed by Gov. Brad Henry (D)
- James Edmondson – appointed by Gov. Brad Henry (D)
- Noma Gurich – appointed by Gov. Brad Henry (D)
- Douglas Combs – appointed by Gov. Brad Henry (D)
- Yvonne Kauger – appointed by Gov. George Nigh (D)
- James Winchester – appointed by Gov. Frank Keating (R)
- Patrick Wyrick (vacant) – appointed by Gov. Mary Fallin (R)
- Richard Darby – appointed by Gov. Mary Fallin (R)
Justices on the court represent single judicial districts and serve six-year terms. The appointed justice must come from the appropriate supreme court judicial district. If the governor does not appoint a replacement within 60 days, the chief justice is responsible for selecting a successor.
The Oklahoma Supreme court is one of two courts of last resort in Oklahoma. The supreme court is the court of last resort for civil matters and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals decides all criminal matters. Texas also has two courts of last resort. A court of last resort is the highest judicial body within a jurisdiction’s court system.
The Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission consists of 15 members: six lawyers elected by the Oklahoma Bar Association, six non-lawyers appointed by the governor, and three additional non-lawyers, who serve as at-large members. The state Senate president pro tempore and the state House speaker each choose one at-large member. A majority of commission members selects the third at-large member. Lawyers and non-lawyers serve six-year staggered terms. The at-large members serve for two years.