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Retention ballot to include four Oklahoma Supreme Court justices

From anti-abortion bills to legislation implementing tax hikes and tax cuts, Oklahoma Supreme Court justices often are asked to rule on the constitutionality of bills that are of immense concern to Oklahomans.

Voters will decide Nov. 6 whether four of the nine current Supreme Court justices get to keep their jobs for another six years.

Recent state Supreme Court decisions sometimes have been controversial.

When justices ruled three years ago that a Ten Commandments monument had to be removed from the grounds of the state Capitol, 11 state lawmakers called for the impeachment of justices who had voted in the majority. The case was decided 7-2.

Frustration with the court was already high among many lawmakers because of a 2013 decision that struck down a bill to lower the state's top income tax rate. The court ruled the tax cut violated a constitutional prohibition against including more than one subject in a single bill.

More recently, many lawmakers expressed frustration after the court struck down a 2017 bill that would have imposed a smoking cessation fee of $1.50 per pack. That ruling forced the Legislature back into special session to fill a gaping budget hole.

When Oklahomans receive their Nov. 6 general election ballots, they will note that voting on Supreme Court justices is not like voting for political candidates.

The justices won't have anyone running against them. Under the state's retention ballot system, Oklahomans will simply be asked to vote yes or no on whether the justices should be retained.

To assist voters, The Oklahoman has compiled a table that contains a brief summary of nine Oklahoma Supreme Court decisions that attracted a great deal of public attention in recent years. Information about whether the justices up for retention sided with the majority or dissented also is included.

Supreme Court justices appearing on this year's retention ballot are:

• Yvonne Kauger, 81, a fourth-generation Oklahoman who has served 34 years on the Supreme Court after first being appointed to the position by then-Gov. George Nigh in 1984.

• James E. Edmondson, 73, a former eastern Oklahoma prosecutor and district court judge who has served 15 years on the Supreme Court since being appointed by then-Gov. Brad Henry in 2003.

• Noma D. Gurich, 66, a former district judge and Workers' Compensation Court judge who has served nearly eight years on the Supreme Court since being appointed by then-Gov. Brad Henry in January 2011.

• Patrick Wyrick, 37, a former Oklahoma solicitor general who was appointed to the Supreme Court by Gov. Mary Fallin in February 2017, filling the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Steven Taylor. If Oklahomans vote to retain Wyrick, his continued service on the Supreme Court could be brief, since President Trump nominated him to serve as a federal judge and he is currently awaiting U.S. Senate confirmation.

Oklahomans also will be asked to vote on whether three of the five judges on the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals and five of the 12 judges on the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals judges should be retained.

Court of Criminal Appeals judges whose names will appear on the Nov. 6 retention ballot are David B. Lewis, Dana Kuehn and Scott Rowland.

Court of Civil Appeals judges whose names will appear on the retention ballot are Barbara Green Swinton, Kenneth L. Buettner, Robert Bobby Bell, E. Bay Mitchell III and Brian Jack Goree.

Oklahomans have never voted not to retain an Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice or appellate court judge. The favorable votes for retention of specific judges have ranged between 58 percent and 68 percent over the past decade.

Related Photos
From left: Justices Yvonne Kauger, James Edmondson, Noma Gurich and Patrick Wyrick

From left: Justices Yvonne Kauger, James Edmondson, Noma Gurich and Patrick Wyrick

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-f76ff123be388184cc5d00d8d06e9146.jpg" alt="Photo - From left: Justices Yvonne Kauger, James Edmondson, Noma Gurich and Patrick Wyrick" title="From left: Justices Yvonne Kauger, James Edmondson, Noma Gurich and Patrick Wyrick"><figcaption>From left: Justices Yvonne Kauger, James Edmondson, Noma Gurich and Patrick Wyrick</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-b9b17fb2a0d7c03f538b2fe8502cac07.jpg" alt="Photo - Justice Yvonne Kauger " title=" Justice Yvonne Kauger "><figcaption> Justice Yvonne Kauger </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-620c746b63985f785d79d8c880fb8691.jpg" alt="Photo - Justice James Edmondson " title=" Justice James Edmondson "><figcaption> Justice James Edmondson </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-c52ad3e53493ab6ee3a12ccfba35cf6a.jpg" alt="Photo - Justice Noma Gurich " title=" Justice Noma Gurich "><figcaption> Justice Noma Gurich </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-ee0aa9e40d64e97a4997c0d9edc5e425.jpg" alt="Photo - Justice Patrick Wyrick  " title=" Justice Patrick Wyrick  "><figcaption> Justice Patrick Wyrick  </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6e96b68921e12c43a759f4c7a6e48a67.jpg" alt="Photo - " title=""><figcaption></figcaption></figure>
Randy Ellis

For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two... Read more ›

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