Judicial Independence Does Not Mean Judicial Supremacy
February 3, 2014
Count Oklahoma among the states increasingly fed up with “merit” selection and the unaccountable, imperial judges it produces. After the state Supreme Court tossed aside Oklahoma’s tort reform statutes, Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon is pushing a series of reforms in the state’s judicial selection process. Why would the Court block common sense tort reform – an issue Shannon calls “essential to the future opportunity and prosperity of the people of our great state?” According to Shannon:
“Here is the problem: a substantial portion of the commission is made up of trial attorneys handpicked by the Oklahoma Bar Association. At our judicial reform study, several non-lawyer members of the commission said the opinions of the lawyers are relied upon.”
Shannon has introduced a set of reforms that would establish a mandatory retirement age of 75; establish 12-year term limits for some judges; and revise the nominating commissions to reduce the power of legal special interest groups. Even these modest proposals are being attacked by the gavel grabbers and Oklahoma’s legal establishment.
One Oklahoma attorney accuses Shannon of “not appreciate[ing] the separation of powers and checks and balances system so critical to our constitutional democracy” and suggests the “brilliant framers of the U.S. Constitution, upon which our Oklahoma Constitution is based, understood we have to have an independent judiciary.”
I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t remember the section in the U.S. Constitution where a single special interest group (lawyers) are raised above the people and their elected representatives and given a privileged place when it comes to choosing judges. The president does not have to choose a handpicked crony of the American Bar Association or any other special interest.
Yes, the framers wanted the judiciary to be independent, but they also wanted it to be accountable by having judges nominated and confirmed by representatives of the people. When you have independence without accountability you get judicial supremacy. That’s what we’re seeing in Oklahoma today and it’s why Speaker Shannon is right to push judicial reform.