The Norman Transcript


September 29, 2013

Oklahoma high court justice downplays rift talk



“Our responsibility is to interpret the laws and we, in interpreting law, must make sure that it’s consistent with the state and federal constitutions,” Colbert said. “And the other most important thing besides doing that is also to ensure that every decision is a fair and impartial decision.”

University of Tulsa law professor Chuck Adams agreed with Colbert’s assessment of the high court’s role and suggested the Legislature is more to blame for bills being struck down as unconstitutional.

“The Supreme Court has the responsibility to make sure the rules are followed. So does the Legislature. There doesn’t have to be tension if they’re working together,” Adams said. “It appears to me that the Legislature hadn’t followed the appropriate rules, and that’s the problem.”

Colbert also defended the current process for selecting judges in Oklahoma in which the Judicial Nominating Commission provides three names to the governor for selection.

Established by amendment in 1967 to the Oklahoma Constitution, the commission was created after a bribery scandal involving Oklahoma Supreme Court justices in the early 1960s. The 15-member panel includes six attorneys elected by the bar, one from each of the six congressional districts as they were drawn in 1967. The other nine members are non-lawyers, six of whom are appointed by the governor, and the other three are appointed by the House speaker, Senate president pro tem, and one by the other members of the commission.

“There is actually representation by everyone that comes together,” Colbert said. “I think the system works extremely well, and if it’s not broke, why fix it?

“And that’s just my own opinion. That’s not the opinion of this court.”

Once a judge is appointed by a governor to an appellate court, they must appear on a retention ballot every six years, but the removal of a judge is extremely rare.

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