Oklahoma Fertile Soil for Landmark Supreme Court Decisions

Article excerpt

Born from a constitutional crisis, Oklahoma remains fertile soil for landmark decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, according to educator s.

Whether Oklahoma is unique because of the numbers of cases which make it from the state to the nation's highest court, or the cases' magnitude, two experts agree that, since statehood, Oklahoma hashad a higher than average number of precedent-setting cases.

Recent ""textbook cases'' involving Oklahoma laws include the beer-drinking age, murder defendants' rights and liquor advertising regulation on cable television.

Not involving state law, but arising out of Oklahoma courts, were the Karen Silkwood case and the college football television rights lawsuit initiated by the University of Oklahoma.

And, in the just completed court term, there were five decisions stemming from Oklahoma cases, including the striking down of a law allowing school boards to fire teachers who advocate, encourage or promote homosexual activity.

Assistant Attorney General David Lee acknowledges that Oklahoma has had an unusually high number of cases before the Supreme Court in the past two years.

But he does not detect a rising trend.

Dick Wells, a political science professor at the University of Oklahoma, has done a study of all Oklahoma laws that have been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court from statehood until 1979.

""Compared with other states and depending on the period, Oklahoma is always either first or second,'' Wells said. ""Louisiana is always the other state involved.

""There are really two kinds of cases. During early statehood, Oklahoma was trying to sequester itself economically. The others are less pleasant, and often they dealt with the state's racial laws.''

Wells said that Oklahoma residents ""have always been constitutional pioneers - perhaps for all the wrong reasons. This state tends to have a history of not writing moderate laws.''

He theorized that such independence stems from the settlement of the Indian Territory and the Trail of Tears, which became inevitable in 1832 when President Andrew Jackson ignored the U.S. Supreme Court and removed Indian populations.

""Oklahoma orginated out of a constitutional crisis,'' Wells said. ""The state's culture has always been a little mistrustful of government to start with. …