Column by Fred Morgan, President & CEO of the State Chamber, published in the Journal Record on March 1, 2019
When it comes to modernizing our government and making our processes more efficient, very few ideas are more pressing than judicial redistricting. Currently, we are abiding by a district map drawn in 1967. I don’t want to date myself, but I was alive in 1967 and am here to tell you that our world – and more specifically, our state – has changed drastically since then. That’s why we at the State Chamber are supportive of and encouraged by the recent discussions about updating the process by which we select our judges.
Although many aspects of Oklahoma have changed in the last 60 years, none are more prominent than the shifts in population. When we revitalized the urban cores of Oklahoma City and Tulsa, people moved back to the cities. There are around 13,000 members of the Oklahoma Bar Association, and most of those people reside in or around Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Recent court vacancies in some areas have seen a paucity of highly qualified judicial candidates. To ensure that we are selecting the best qualified candidates for the bench, we need to redraw the judicial map.
So does this mean that lawyers in rural parts of Oklahoma would be left out from the process? In short, no. To prevent that situation from happening, four of the spots on the Supreme Court will be left for “at-large” nominations, allowing the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) to pull from anywhere in the state. Increasing the potential pool of attorneys will enable the JNC to review a substantially larger number of talented attorneys and select the best and brightest candidates.
As with any other antiquated law, there will be some resistance to change. But with the arrival of a new governor and a statewide effort to put our state in the top 10 nationally, we must make strategic progress where we can. Senate Bill 973 and House Bill 2366 help ensure the best legal talent to lead our state into the future.