Oklahoma voters could decide in November on changing the state’s judge selection process

The Oklahoma State Legislature is considering a constitutional amendment for the Nov. 2022 ballot that would establish a new judicial selection process in Oklahoma that is more similar to the U.S. federal court system structure.

Judicial selection refers to the process used to select judges for courts. At the state level, methods of judicial selection vary. There are six primary types of judicial selection: partisan and nonpartisan elections, the Michigan method, assisted appointment, gubernatorial appointment, and legislative elections.

Under the proposed judicial selection process, the governor would appoint judges (including chief judges) to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, and intermediate appellate courts, subject to confirmation from the Oklahoma State Senate. The judges would stand for retention elections every six years. Under the amendment, trial court judges would continue to be elected in the same manner as other county officers unless changed by state law.

Currently, the state uses an assisted appointment method in which judges are appointed by the governor from a list created by the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission and chief judges are selected through a peer-vote. Judges of the Oklahoma District Courts are elected in nonpartisan elections every four years.

To put the proposed constitutional amendment on a general election ballot, a simple majority vote of all members in both the Senate and House of Representatives is required. This constitutional amendment was introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 43 on Feb. 7, 2022. The Senate passed the measure in a vote of 38-10 on March 22. All of the nine Democratic Senators voted against the measure. Of the 39 Republican Senators, 38 voted in favor and one voted against. On April 27, the House passed an amended version of the measure in a vote of 62-24. Of the 18 House Democrats, 14 voted against and 4 were excused from voting. Among the 82 House Republicans, 62 voted in favor, 10 voted against, and 10 were excused or did not vote. As the House amended the measure, a final vote is needed in the Senate.

A total of 71 measures appeared on the statewide ballot in Oklahoma from 2000 to 2020, including five measures that appeared on the ballot during odd-numbered years. Of the measures, 74.65% (53 of 71) of the total number of measures that appeared on the statewide ballot were approved, and about 22.35% (18 of 71) were defeated. An average of between six and seven measures appeared on the ballot in Oklahoma during even-numbered election years. The number of measures on statewide ballots during even-numbered years ranged from three to 11.

Note: The original version of this article, published on April 29, said the constitutional amendment was certified for the ballot. Due to a change to the resolution, an additional vote is required before certification. The article was updated on May 5.