If you just read headlines, it appears common sense and thoughtful policymaking are in short supply. But headlines can be misleading. A pair of bills recently advanced in the Oklahoma Senate are a perfect illustration.
The State Chamber is proud to support Senate Bills 155 and 957 by Sen. Brent Howard, which will bring greater transparency to the judiciary. SB 155 requires the Oklahoma Supreme Court to maintain a public docket on its website. This calendar will allow businesses, policymakers and the public to stay abreast of cases being heard by the Court that may impact them. Court decisions often affect businesses and individuals far beyond the litigants.
Right now, we do not find out the issues being considered until a decision is rendered. This makes it exceedingly difficult to predict what challenges businesses will face and how they should act. SB 155 is a seemingly small change that will have a large impact, making Oklahoma a friendlier and more predictable place to do business.
SB 957 lays out a more predictable and transparent process for judicial recusals. Occasionally, judges have a conflict of interest that requires their recusal from a case. A change of one of the nine justices can completely shift the outcome of the case.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court currently permits the chief justice to appoint replacement justices. This amplifies the chief justice's sway over the outcome. Moreover, it is unclear how the chief justice determines when to appoint a replacement and when to leave the spot vacant. The U.S. Supreme Court simply decides such cases with fewer justices.
Appointing an unvetted person to decide a high-profile case would invite questions about the legitimacy of the ruling. SB 957 would replicate the U.S. Supreme Court's practice, unless fewer than seven justices are able to hear the litigation. In those cases, the governor would appoint a retired Supreme Court justice as a special justice.
These bills are common-sense, good-government reforms. They enjoy widespread, bipartisan support. SB 155 passed the Senate unanimously, and SB 957 did the same in committee.
Perhaps collaborative, thoughtful policymaking isn't so rare after all, it just doesn't receive the same attention as the fighting.
Chad Warmington is the president and CEO of the Oklahoma State Chamber, the state's leading advocate for business since 1926.
NOTE: This article was first published in the Journal Record on March 5, 2021.