This November, you can vote to keep or remove seven Oklahoma Justices from their positions, what the ballot refers to as “available for retention.” Retained Justices keep the jobs they have. Removed Justices no longer serve in their position, and the Governor of Oklahoma will appoint a new Justice to fill their vacant spot. The process is fairly quick, so the courts continue to function in the absence of a Justice, and the spot is filled within a couple months. Justices function much like judges, but are nominated to their positions and work in the higher courts — courts that review cases that have already been tried, for the most part. So what does that mean and who should you, shining example of civic virtue that you are, vote for?
Appellate Oklahoma Justices are split into three specializations: Supreme Court, Court of Civil Appeals, and the Court of Criminal Appeals. All three Courts try cases that have already been tried in court and the decisions have been contested. The Supreme Court is the highest court in Oklahoma. It’s where the big cases go once they’ve been squabbled over in the lower courts. The Court of Civil Appeals handles cases between people. This covers cases where someone is suing another person or damages were incurred and the problem has gone to court. The Court of Criminal Appeals is for criminal cases that have already been sentenced. Judges at all levels of government make decisions that will change countless people’s lives every day. Their decisions on cases affect the current defendant and plaintiff, and the cases that will eventually be brought to trial, where other justices and judges might reference similar rulings that have come before the current one. Justices help to shape the future.
Each Justice is appointed by the Governor of Oklahoma. Voters can vote to keep the Justice for the next six years. Every six years after that, voters can vote to retain or remove a justice. This election, seven Justices are up for retention: two in the Supreme Court, Two in the Court of Criminal Appeals, and three in the Court of Civil Appeals. As there can never be another Justice running for office, Justices do not campaign. You might not hear much about them at all, as a matter of fact, which is why it is extremely rare for a Justice to not be retained.
Here are some things to think about: Democratic Governors are more likely to nominate liberal judges, and Republican Governors are more likely to nominate conservative judges. The current Governor of Oklahoma, Mary Fallin, is a Republican. If you are looking to vote for a more liberal court system, voting to oust the current conservatives on the bench would likely bring in different people with the same ideologies. If you are looking to get rid of a couple liberal Justices, now might be your chance.
Notable, too, is the time spent on the bench. Each of these Justices is highly decorated. They have all served in other positions in the judicial system and come highly recommended. Their time spent on the job, in my opinion, lends itself to a better understanding of the law and the ways in which the law can be interpreted and applied. A long service does not necessarily mean that a Justice no longer cares about his or her job, only that they have performed their duty satisfactorily enough that they have not yet been removed from their seat.
Additionally, Justices — these Justices in particular — are fairly sedate. There are no scandals or skeletons in plain sight. Instead, they do their jobs and hear their cases.
If you have the burning need to look at recent court cases. Law.justicia.com and caselaw.findlaw.com provide summaries of recent court cases. In any case, the best advice I can give you is to examine what you want out of a Justice. Presumably, you want someone who leans more in favor of your political party. So pay attention to the governors who nominated these Justices, because that’s where you can find out the most about the political leanings of the Justices themselves. Here’s a quick look at each of Oklahoma’s Justices, and why you might vote to retain or release them from duty.