Monday, July 20, 2015

State Constitutional Convention needs to be convened!

Weekly Opinion Editorial


by Steve Fair

     By now most Oklahomans know the State Supreme Court ruled the state had to remove the Ten Commandments monument from the Oklahoma State Capitol grounds.  Immediately several legislators said the ruling was wrong and proposed impeaching the Justices who voted for the removal.  Attorney General Scott Pruitt said he would appeal the decision and Governor Mary Fallin said the monument will stay put through the appeal process.  Here are three points about this ruling:

     First, if the Justices are strictly interpreting the state constitution (a first for them), then the ruling was probably correct.  Doesn’t mean it was right, but correct.  You see Oklahoma’s constitution has what is known as a ‘Blaine amendment.’  It is named after former U.S. Speaker of the House and U.S. Senator James Blaine from Maine who proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution in the 1870s that was supported by his fellow Republican President Grant. The real objective of Blaine’s amendment was to make sure that religious schools didn’t get any public funding.  It failed to pass the Senate, but groups supporting the concept were successful in getting it included in thirty-eight state constitutions   State Representative Kevin Calvey, (R-OKC) has indicated he will run a Joint Resolution in the upcoming legislative session that if passed would send a proposal to repeal the Blaine amendment to a vote of the people.  Calvey noted that the US Supreme Court approved a Ten Commandments monument on the Texas State Capitol grounds, and that the U.S. Supreme Court building itself has a depiction of the Ten Commandments.  The Decalogue has not only religious, but secular significance, so it is very possible that Pruitt wins the appeal.   

     Second, Oklahoma needs judicial reform.  While the Supreme Court Justices may have ruled on the Ten Commandments issue in a strict legal sense, they failed to do that on issues like tort reform and workers comp reform.  The inconsistency and political activism of the Oklahoma Supreme Court is revealed in their unpredictable, illogical rulings.  They seem to only rule ‘by the book’ when it advances their personal political agenda, which is more liberal than the average Oklahoman. So how do we get rid of them?   Currently Supreme Court Justices candidates in Oklahoma submit their names to the Judicial Nominating Commission.  The Commission is a fifteen member board, six appointed by the Governor, six by the law profession, one appointed by the Speaker of the House and one by the President Pro Tempore and one at large member selected by the commission themselves.  Half the commission must be non-lawyers.  The commission submits their recommendation of three candidates to the Governor, who makes the appointment without further approval needed.  Justices serve six year terms and face voters on a ‘retention’ ballot.  Since Oklahoma went to the retention system, no judge has been removed, even though a couple have come close.  It is probably because every Justice has done such a stellar job in the past fifty years that none needed to be sent home.  The legislator should consider judicial term limits and requiring more information on a judge’s rulings be given to the public before they are on the retention ballot.  It is easier to find Jimmy Hoffa’s body than to get information on an Oklahoma Justice.

     Third, the Supreme Court ruling revealed one of many flaws in the Oklahoma Constitution.  The US Constitution has 8,700 words- the Oklahoma state constitution is 50,000 words- twice the average length of a state constitution.  Our founding document has been amended over 150 times, six times more than the federal constitution.  One of the provisions in the state constitution is the people of Oklahoma vote every twenty years as to whether a state constitutional convention is convened.  The last time Oklahomans voted on that issue- in 1970- convening a state constitutional convention was defeated 3 to 1.  No vote was taken 1990 or 2010 as required by law.  It is well past time to fix our state constitution.  State Representative Gary Banz, (R-Midwest City) and State Senator Kyle Loveless, (R-Moore) are planning to run a bill in the upcoming session to put the issue back in front of the people.  Loveless says, “As the Legislature deals with detailed and complicated issues each year, the level of detail in our constitution is cumbersome — beyond what anyone would want, right down to the flashpoint of kerosene. A constitution is supposed to set the boundaries, principles and skeleton upon which the government sits.”

     I would urge support for both Calvey’s Joint Resolution to amend the constitution and Loveless and Banz’s proposal to convene a state constitutional convention.  It’s time to send the old constitution sweeping down the plains.

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