Gavel Grab

'A Real Constitutional Crisis' Looming in Oklahoma?

FallinOklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (photo) said the state Supreme Court has exceeded its authority by staying the execution of two inmates. An outside death penalty expert, Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center, said Oklahoma “is teetering on a real constitutional crisis.”

The inmates have challenged a secrecy protocol involving the source of lethal injection drugs used by the state. The state Supreme Court stay put off the inmates’ executions until a hearing is held on their lawsuit, the Associated Press reported.

Of the state’s two high courts, the Supreme Court typically has authority over civil disputes, including the constitutionality of state laws, and the Court of Criminal Appeals is the top court for criminal cases, the Tulsa World said.

The governor said in an executive order, “While I have great respect for the honorable men and women of the Supreme Court, this attempted stay of execution is outside the constitutional authority of that body.” She said she was exercising her own constitutional authority to grant a stay of execution to one of the men; she didn’t mention the second. She directed the Oklahoma attorney general “to seek specific guidance from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals” regarding the inmate whose execution she stayed.

The conflict between the governor and state Supreme Court comes at a time legislators are considering legislation to revamp membership of the Judicial Nominating Commission, which recommends candidates for the governor to appoint as appellate judges (see Gavel Grab). Fallin is a Republican, and the legislature is controlled by Republicans. The bill would allow the governor, House speaker, and Senate president pro tem to make 14 of the 15 appointments. It would let the legislative leaders appoint six attorney members who are now chosen by state Bar members.

On Thursday, a state House vote is expected on the legislation, and several amendments have been offered, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts.

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