The Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) was established as a part of the Judicial Department in 1967 by an amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution. Prompted by the Oklahoma Supreme Court scandal of the early 1960s, the creation of the JNC was part of a nationwide reform movement, begun in Missouri in 1940 and now encompassing 33 states and the District of Columbia, toward the merit selection, rather than the election, of some or all judges. The JNC, which went into operation in 1969, nominates candidates for appointment by the Governor to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Court of Appeals, District and Associate District Judgeships, and the Workers’ Compensation Court. The JNC has jurisdiction to determine whether the qualifications of nominees to hold judicial office have been met.
The JNC has fifteen members who serve without compensation. Six of the members are lawyers, one elected by the members of the bar from each of the six congressional districts as they existed in 1967. The six lawyers are elected for six year terms, staggered at two year intervals.
Nine members are non lawyers. Six are appointed by the Governor, one from each of the “old” congressional districts, to serve staggered six year terms. Of the six members named by the Governor, not more than three can belong to any one political party and none can have a lawyer from any state in their immediate family. The three remaining non lawyer members serve a two year term as Members at Large. One is appointed by the Senate President Pro Tempore, one is appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and one is selected by the other members of the Commission. Of the three at Large members, not more than two can be from the same political party.
The JNC annually elects one of its members to serve as chairman for a one year term. Administrative assistance is provided by the Administrative Director of the Courts and his staff.
The JNC was designed to be as free from partisan influence as possible. Besides limiting the number of lay members who may belong to any one political party, the Constitution provides that
“[n]o Commissioner can hold any other public office by election or appointment or any official position in a political party, and no Commissioner is eligible, while a member of the Commission and for five years thereafter, for nomination as a Judicial Officer,” and no Commissioner may succeed himself or herself.