The Norman Transcript

January 11, 2014

Politicians seek to destroy justice

By Kenneth Corn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Oklahoma's Founding Fathers had a distrust of overreaching politicians, government and large corporations. It was a distrust so strong that they wrote one of the most detailed state constitutions in America. Like the U.S. Constitution, our state constitution provides each citizen with an impartial, independent judicial system to guarantee justice.

The intent of our ancestor's effort is undeniable. Justice should not be denied or corrupted by the rich, the powerful, politicians and special interests. That axiom has been one of the most unshakeable pillars of our republic for hundreds of years.

That could change in Oklahoma if the State Chamber of Commerce and House Speaker T.W. Shannon get their way.

While our other two branches of state government, the executive and legislative, are deeply mired in never-ending, partisan political fights, Oklahoma's judges have been a thoughtful, careful check over out-of-control legislatures and governors.

It should come as no surprise to any of citizen that those same politicians who have been able to manipulate the other branches of government now are seeking to destroy the last independent vestige of the people's hard-won freedom.

For decades our judiciary has served to protect the rights of Oklahomans when partisan elected officials have tried to put the system to work for only the privileged few and special interests. The Oklahoma judiciary has remained above the fray of petty politics and made decisions based upon the fact of law and the articles of the U.S. and Oklahoma Constitutions.

In their decisions over a wide variety of cases, the judiciary has repeatedly warned and chided the Legislature about passing laws that politicians already knew were blatantly unlawful and unconstitutional.

Unfortunately, Republican and Democratic politicians have refused to heed those warnings.

It should be alarming to all Oklahomans that we now have a movement to cripple the independence of our judicial system, which has been a model for the nation. In its place these misguided politicians would give us kangaroo courts that would grant activist judges the power to launch a reign of judicial terror on citizens.

All of this is transpiring because politicians, like small children, are angry because they can't get their way.

The proposed judicial "reforms" will lead to judges’ rulings based on personal political opinions, not the rule of law. It will lead to our judiciary being corrupted by campaign contributions, as has happened in the legislative and executive branches of government, both in Oklahoma and nationally.

One proposed change would bring Washington, D.C.-like politics into how judges are selected by setting up partisan political confirmations by the state Senate. Another would force judicial candidates to run as partisan political candidates.

These proposals would bring political ideology into consideration of judicial appointments and elections rather than an appointee's legal skills and understanding of law and our constitutional rights.

Another proposal would remove the people's participation in helping select judges by weakening or eliminating Oklahoma's independent Judicial Nomination Commission. Such an unworthy idea would allow politicians and political power brokers to place cronies in positions on the bench instead of qualified, thoughtful legal minds.

All of these ideas are a blatant effort by politicians and their allies to cleanse the judiciary of capable, independent jurists who have refused to do their bidding. The plan is to force good judges from the bench so politicians, like T.W. Shannon, can replace them with a biased and a more reactionary, politically driven group of activist judges.

Right now, Oklahoma judges are chosen by the governor from a list of qualified candidates forwarded by a citizen-led judicial nomination commission. It's not a perfect system, but it's the best system in the world. But that could change — if good people don't stop these new proposals.

Kenneth Corn is chairman of the board for The Society For A Better Oklahoma. He can be reached at kenneth@blaketrucking.com.

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