Gavel Grab

‘Don’t Mix Politics with Judges’ in Oklahoma

In a strongly worded op-ed for the Tulsa World, Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission member Steve Turnbo argues that the state’s merit selection system “is not broken, despite comments to the contrary by a few politicians.” Turnbo, who was appointed by Gov. Mary Fallin, writes that his two years on the commission “have made me proud to serve and even prouder of my fellow commission members who take their job seriously and gladly donate their time to vetting and recommending judicial candidates to the governor.”

Turnbo points out that the state’s merit selection system was created in response to a series of judicial scandals in an era when all judges in the state were elected. “Plenty of opportunity existed for cutting deals and individual ‘power brokers’ to act unethically or illegally” under the previous system, he writes.  Calling that period a “disgraceful” time for the state, Turnbo writes that the merit system that followed is “efficient, independent, and has stood the test of time.”

“Some complain that electing judges is the more efficient methodology. I disagree,” Turnbo maintains. “An election process embracing campaign contributions and political party affiliation will certainly erode public confidence and incentivize partisan politics.”

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has drawn criticism from some quarters for recent rulings, resulting in a debate over the state’s judicial selection process (see Gavel Grab).

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