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Supreme Court of Oklahoma

Oklahoma Supreme Court
Oklahoma State Capitol
Established 1907
Country Oklahoma Oklahoma, United States United States
Location Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Composition method Gubernatorial appointment with non-partisan statewide retention
Authorized by Oklahoma Constitution
Decisions are appealed to Supreme Court of the United States
Judge term length Life, renewable every 6 years
Number of positions 9
Chief Justice
Currently Tom Colbert
Since 2013
Lead position ends 2015

The Supreme Court of Oklahoma is one of the two highest judicial bodies in the U.S. state of Oklahoma and leads the judiciary of Oklahoma, the judicial branch of the government of Oklahoma.[1]

As of 2011, the Oklahoma Supreme Court meets in the Oklahoma Judicial Center, having previously met in the Oklahoma State Capitol.[2] The court consists of nine justices nominated by a state commission and appointed by the governor.

Members of the court are required to be nonpartisan and are prohibited from a number of political activities including campaign contributions.


The Oklahoma Supreme Court was created by the ratification of the Oklahoma Constitution in 1907.[3]

After the construction on the Oklahoma State Capitol, which was completed in 1917,[4] the Oklahoma Supreme Court offices and chamber were housed in the building. Plans to move the offices began in 2006.[4] In 2011, the Oklahoma Supreme Court moved its offices from the Oklahoma State Capitol to the Oklahoma Judicial Center.[2]


The court consists of a chief justice, a vice-chief justice, and seven associate justices, who are nominated by the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission and are appointed by the governor. After appointment, the justices serve until the next general state election. At that time, they must face a retention election. If retained, they begin a six-year term. After their first term, justices must file for direct election by the people of Oklahoma to retain their position.[5][6]

Unlike the Supreme Court of the United States, the Oklahoma Constitution specifies the size of the Oklahoma Supreme Court. However, the legislature maintains the power to fix the number of justices. According to Article VII, section 2 of the Oklahoma Constitution, the court must consist of nine justices, one justice from each of the nine judicial districts of the state.

Qualification, appointment process and tenure

Each justice, at the time of his or her election or appointment, must be at least thirty years old, a registered voter in the Supreme Court judicial district they represent for at least one year before filing for the position, and a licensed practicing attorney or judge (or both) in Oklahoma for five years before appointment. The potential justice must maintain certification as an attorney or judge during his or her tenure in office in order to main their position.[5]

Qualified nominees must submit their names to the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission to verify that they will serve if appointed. In the event of a vacancy on the court, after reviewing potential justices, the commission must submit three names to the governor, of whom the governor appoints one to the Supreme Court to serve until the next general state election. If the governor fails to appoint a justice within sixty days, the chief justice may appoint one of the nominees, who must certify their appointment to Secretary of State of Oklahoma.[7]

Each time a justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court is elected to retain his or her position in the general state elections, he or she continues to serve for another six years in office with a term beginning on the second Monday in January following the general election. Justices appointed to fill vacancies take office immediately and continue to serve in their appointed posts until the next general election. To be eligible to stand for reelection, justices must, within sixty days before the general election, submit their desire to stand for reelection to the Secretary of State.[8]

The justice is then put to election by the people of Oklahoma. If the majority votes to maintain the justice, the justice will serve for another six-year term. However, if the justice declines reelection or the voters vote the justice down, the seat on the Supreme Court shall be considered vacant at the end of the current term and the Judicial Nominating Committee must search for a potential replacement. Justices who have failed to file for reelection or were not retained by the people in the general election are not eligible to immediately succeed themselves.[8]

Retention in office may be sought for successive terms without limit as to number of years or terms served in office.[8]

Jurisdiction and powers

Section 4 of Article VII of the Oklahoma Constitution outlines the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Oklahoma. The appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is co-extensive with that of the state's borders. The court's jurisdiction applies to all cases "at law and in equity," except criminal cases, in which the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has exclusive appellate jurisdiction. If there is a conflict in determining which court has jurisdiction, the Oklahoma Supreme Court is granted the power to determine which court has jurisdiction, with no appeal from the court’s determination.[1]

Along with Texas, Oklahoma is one of two states to have two courts of last resort; the Oklahoma Supreme Court decides only civil cases, and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals decides criminal cases. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has only immediate jurisdiction with respect to new first-impression issues, important legal issues, and cases of great public interest.[1][9] In addition to appeals from the trial courts, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has jurisdiction over all lower courts, excluding the Oklahoma Court on the Judiciary, and the Oklahoma Senate, when that body is sitting as a Court of Impeachment. Judgments of the Oklahoma Supreme Court with respect to the Oklahoma Constitution are considered final.[10][11]

The court's authority includes the power to temporarily reassign judges. The Oklahoma Supreme Court also maintains the power to appoint an administrative director and staff. The director serves at the pleasure of the court to assist the chief justice in his administrative duties and to assist the Oklahoma Court on the Judiciary when it calls upon the office’s administrative powers.[12]

The court has power to issue, hear and determine writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, quo warranto, certiorari, prohibition and other remedial writs provided in statute and can be given further authority through statute. A justice on the court can issue the writ of habeas corpus to individuals held in custody if petitioned. Writs can be made to appear before any judge in the state.[1]

Aside from hearing cases, the court is also responsible for administering the state's entire judicial system, establishing rules of operation for the state's other courts. The Oklahoma Supreme Court formulates the rules for the practice of law, which govern the conduct of attorneys, and it administers discipline in appropriate cases. Many of the justices make personal appearances to speak to members of the bar, civic clubs, and educational groups. These appearances are made to help citizens understand the court's workings and decision-making process. Justices are also called upon to administer official oaths of office to public officials.[13]

Ethics restrictions

Judicial officers are charged with maintaining the integrity and independence of the judiciary. Justices are required to be nonpartisan and are prohibited from using their office or powers to promote or assist any private interest. Justices may not hold offices in political parties, make speeches for candidates, or contribute to campaigns for political office.[14]

Justices are also forbidden from campaigning for their own re-election unless there is an active opposition to their retention of office. Even if a justices or judges are actively campaigning for retention, they can not personally raise funds for their campaign.

Current membership

The Justices of the Oklahoma Supreme Court are:

Justice District Appointed Governor Law School Birth City
Chief Justice Justice Tom Colbert 6th 2004 Brad Henry University of Oklahoma Oklahoma City, OK
Vice-Chief Justice John Reif 1st 2007 Brad Henry University of Tulsa Skiatook, OK
Yvonne Kauger 4th 1984 George Nigh Oklahoma City University Colony, OK
Joseph Watt 9th 1992 David Walters University of Texas Austin, Texas
James Winchester 5th 2000 Frank Keating Oklahoma City University Clinton, OK
James Edmondson 7th 2003 Brad Henry Georgetown University Kansas City, MO
Steven Taylor 2nd 2004 Brad Henry University of Oklahoma Henyretta, OK
Doug Combs 8th 2010 Brad Henry Oklahoma City University Shawnee, OK
Noma Gurich 3rd 2011 Brad Henry University of Oklahoma South Bend, IN

List of former justices


External links

  • Oklahoma Supreme Court official homepage
  • Oklahoma State Courts Network
  • Voices of Oklahoma oral history project.

Coordinates: 35°29′32″N 97°30′12″W / 35.492282°N 97.503372°W / 35.492282; -97.503372

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