Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Patrick Wyrick vacated his seat on the court on April 10, 2019, when he received commission to become an Article III federal judge on the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. On November 20, 2019, Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) appointed Dustin Rowe to succeed Wyrick on the state supreme court. Rowe was Stitt’s second nominee to the nine-member supreme court.
Selection of state supreme court justices in Oklahoma following a resignation occurs through gubernatorial appointment. The governor appoints a justice from a list of three candidates provided by the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission (OJNC). The appointed justice must come from the appropriate Supreme Court judicial district. The appointee serves until the next general election, when he or she must stand for retention. At that time, a replacement is retained for a full six-year term or to serve out the unexpired term of his or her predecessor. If the governor does not choose a replacement within 60 days of the vacancy, the chief justice is responsible for appointing a successor.
The OJNC is a commission that chooses potential nominees for appointment by the governor to judicial positions on Oklahoma’s appellate courts. It consists of 15 members who join the board by election through the Oklahoma Bar Association, appointment by the governor, appointment by the president pro tempore of the state Senate and the speaker of the House, or selection by an eight-member majority of the other appointed and elected commission members.
When a vacancy is announced, interested individuals may apply to fill it. The OJNC evaluates those individuals to determine if the applicant is qualified to serve as a judge in the state. When the commission is done with its evaluation, it submits in writing a list of the three top applicants to both the governor and the chief justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Rowe will serve until the next general election, which will be held in 2021. According to The Oklahoman, the three applicants for the position were Judge Mark Campbell, attorney Dustin Rowe, and Judge Jonathan Sullivan.
At the time of his supreme court appointment, Rowe was district judge of the Chickasaw Nation District Court, a position he assumed in 2011. From 2005 to 2011, Rowe was special judge of the Chickasaw Nation District Court. He began practicing law as an attorney in Tishomingo, Oklahoma, in 2001. Rowe was elected mayor of Tishomingo at the age of 18, becoming one of the youngest mayors in the country. At the age of 22, he became district director for the newly elected U.S. Rep. Wes Watkins.
In 2019, there have been 22 supreme court vacancies across 14 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. Retirements caused 14 of the vacancies. Two former justices took jobs in the private sector. One vacancy occurred when a justice was elevated to chief justice of the court, and four vacancies occurred when the justices were elevated to federal judicial positions.