The Oklahoma Bar Association encourages you to learn more about judicial merit retention and the Supreme Court justices and the appellate court judges on the 2012 retention ballot. In November 2012, you will be asked to vote whether to retain the justices and appeals court judges listed on the ballot. This is called judicial merit retention.
Under judicial merit retention, justices and appellate court judges appear on the ballot in staggered six-year terms. This year’s election provides voters the opportunity to vote to retain four Supreme Court justices and eight appellate court judges. They all originally reached their positions after being carefully screened by the Judicial Nominating Commission and appointed by Oklahoma governors in a process known as judicial merit selection.
The OBA encourages you to learn about the justices and judges up for merit retention votes so that when Election Day arrives, you will feel confident of your decisions. The vote is in your court.
What is the duty of a judge?
Justices and judges hold an important and unique position. Justices and judges are unlike other elected officials such as the governor and legislators who can announce how they stand on certain issues. Justices and judges are limited in what they can say or do. There are good reasons for this limitation. The most important reason is that our judicial system is based upon a judge being fair, unbiased and independent. The duty of a judge is to follow the law. A judge considers every case on its own facts and applicable laws. Therefore, a blanket statement by a justice or judge about particular issues may conflict with their duty to fairly consider each and every case.
How often do we vote to retain justices and judges?
Supreme Court justices and appellate judges' terms are for six years. They are first appointed by the governor from a list of three names of qualified individuals prepared by the Judicial Nominating Commission. They are then retained in office by vote of the people.
Justices and judges cannot be listed on the ballot by their political party (Democrat, Republican, etc). In fact, judges are prohibited from publicly stating their political party affiliation. For the exact wording of that law, go to 20 O.S. § 1404.1
How do I find out more about the justices and judges on the retention ballot?
It is very important for justices and judges to be independent and not favor one person over another. Judicial offices are very different than any other office in the state. Justices and judges are not allowed to say how they would rule in a case if it came before them or what their predisposition is toward a particular situation.
The best information available on justices and judges is from the lawyers who practice before the courts or other people who know the individuals and whether the justice or judge is fair, unbiased, independent, can follow the law, has integrity and a good work ethic. Biographies of the Supreme Court justices, Court of Criminal Appeals judges and Court of Civil Appeals judges are provided.
Why don’t justices and judges on the retention ballot tell us what they think about issues so I know whether to retain them?
Justices and judges are prohibited from stating how they would rule in a particular instance or on a particular issue. They need to consider the evidence in each specific case and then apply the law to that particular case.
What happens to a justice or a judge who is dishonest or has broken the law?
Justices and judges are required to follow the Code of Judicial Conduct. If they violate this code or various other statutes, the justice or judge could be removed from office. There is a specific process for this that starts with written complaints to the Council on Judicial Complaints. Supreme Court justices are also subject to impeachment for misbehavior.