Despite calls by Republican leaders in the Legislature to stop
and wait, the Judicial Nominating Commission plans to finish
interviews for an open seat on the Oklahoma Supreme Court by the end
of the year.
On Wednesday, JNC Chairman Allen Smallwood said the commission
would interview 14 of the 19 candidates who applied for the seat
formerly held by Justice Marian Opala. Smallwood said the commission
has eliminated five applicants and plans to interview all of the
remaining ones in a single day.
"Those interviews are scheduled for Dec. 28," he said. "We're
going to interview people and do it in one long day."
Smallwood said officials with the Oklahoma State Bureau of
Investigation have assured him that background checks on the
remaining candidates would be ready about a week before the Dec. 28
Should those deadlines hold, the JNC would be able to submit the
names of its top three candidates to Gov. Brad Henry well before
Henry's term expires Jan. 10. Henry would then have the chance to
appoint an unprecedented sixth justice to the state's highest court.
Republicans, however, want the process slowed so Gov.-elect Mary
Fallin could make the appointment.
Smallwood said the JNC would continue to work toward its end-of-
"If we get the background information from the OSBI, then late in
the day on Dec. 28 I expect we will deliver three names to the
governor," Smallwood said.
Henry's office said the governor is monitoring the process.
"We still don't know whether there will be enough time to make
the appointment," said Paul Sund, Henry's spokesman. "The JNC is
working through the process as it always does, but whether it will
be completed before January 10 is still unclear."
Henry said in November he would like the opportunity to appoint a
But Republican lawmakers are pushing Smallwood and the JNC to
wait. Due to the passage of State Question 752 in November, two
additional commissioners will be named by incoming Speaker of the
House Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, and Senate President Pro Tem-
designate Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa.
In a Nov. 24 press release, Bingman and Steele said the JNC
should not proceed with its work until lawmakers made their
appointments to the commission.
"Mr. Smallwood has made the case of why we must slow down,"
Steele said. "Until legislative leaders are eligible to make their
appointments in January the Judicial Nominating Commission should
not proceed. …