Oklahoma governor fills state Supreme Court vacancy
SCOTUS is the final judicial arbiter in the land. Each of the 50 states also has its own supreme court, serving as the court of last resort. Two states—Oklahoma and Texas—actually have two different state supreme courts.
Like SCOTUS, these courts hear and decide appeals of lower trial and appellate courts in cases at the state level. The number of justices on each court varies between five and nine in each state. There are 344 state Supreme Court justices nationwide. Of those judgeships, 165 are elected by voters, 12 are selected by state legislatures, and 167 are appointed.
Each state has different laws governing how state Supreme Court judges are normally selected and how vacancies on the court are filled. In Oklahoma, for example, when a vacancy occurs, the governor appoints one of three candidates from a list provided by the state’s judicial nominating commission. The appointed judge serves until the next general election when he or she must run in a retention election to remain on the court.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) appointed M. John Kane IV to the state Supreme Court October 17, replacing former Justice John Reif who retired in April. Kane is Stitt’s first nominee to the nine-member supreme court. Reif was appointed to the court by then-Gov. Brad Henry (D) in 2007.
Including Kane, three sitting Oklahoma Supreme Court justices were appointed by Republican governors. Five members were appointed by Democratic governors, and the remaining seat is vacant and will be the second seat that Stitt fills by appointment.
If there are no further retirements, three judges appointed by Republican governors and one appointed by a Democratic governor will face retention elections in 2020. According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, no state Supreme Court or appellate court judge in Oklahoma has lost a retention election.
In 2019, we’ve tracked 18 supreme court vacancies across 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. Of those 18 vacancies, 12 are in states where a Republican governor appoints the replacement. Five vacancies occurred in a state where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement, and one—in Virginia—occurred in a state where the legislature selects the replacement.