The Norman Transcript

Opinion

February 1, 2014

Taking giant steps backward

NORMAN — Among the thousands of bills introduced for the second session of Oklahoma’s 54th Legislature was an abominable bill filed by House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, that would eradicate Oklahoma’s separation of powers.

House Bill 3380 would create a nine-member Board of Judicial Review who would handle performance evaluations of the state’s judiciary, from district court judges through Supreme Court justices. They would rate judges on everything from the clarity of their written opinions to the quality of their legal decision-making. The board would poll attorneys, litigants and others for their opinions on the judge’s handling of their case.

The members would also be required to take a “retain,” “do not retain,” or “no opinion” position when judges are on a retention ballot. Most voters would follow that recommendation, making the panelists the de facto electors.

The governor, president pro tem of the Senate, and speaker of the House would each appoint three members to serve five-year terms. The only rule being the appointees could not be practicing lawyers or jurists. That means nine people with no legal training rating the quality of legal decisions throughout the state.

House Bill 3380 would create a human resources department run by the Legislature to oversee the judiciary. Not only is it duplicitous of the smaller-government-is-better Shannon to create a new, unnecessary agency complete with support staff, it takes the philosophy of a constitutional democracy back more than 300 years.

The notion of judicial independence goes back to 1701’s Act of Settlement in England, and French philosopher Montesquieu, who greatly influenced Alexander Hamilton and other Founding Fathers. An independent judiciary was critical to the Constitution’s framers. It remains critical to a free society.

— The Journal Record

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