Monday, December 8, 2014

Cockroft Column - The Time Is Now For Major Judicial Reform

In the last century, individuals in our state and every state in the Nation have felt the effects of an ever growing and increasingly powerful judiciary branch. Even during my tenure in the Oklahoma Legislature, I have seen numerous measures struck down in sweeping cases of judicial activism. What many people do not realize because of its convenient failure to be taught in the classroom is that the judicial system was never created to be a co-equal or independent branch having powers to legislate or execute law as it does today. The Federalist Papers were written by our founders to explain the intent of what was meant by the wording of everything we find in our Constitution. Federalist Paper #51 states, "the legislative authority necessarily predominate.” Federalist Paper #78 states, “The judiciary, on the contrary, has no influence over either the sword or the purse; no direction either of the strength or of the wealth of the society; and can take no active resolution whatever. It may truly be said to have neither force nor will. . . . The judiciary, from the nature of its functions, will always be the least dangerous to the political rights of the Constitution. . . . The judiciary is, beyond comparison, the weakest of the three departments of power. . . . and the general liberty of the people can never be endangered from that quarter. Not only was the Judiciary not created to be equal, but it was actually much weaker than the Legislative and Executive! 

Every election cycle when our Supreme Court Justices are on the ballot for retention, I receive many complaints on the lack of transparency or information available on the Justices due to the state statutes here in Oklahoma. Our state is set up on what is commonly known as the “Missouri Plan” for our selection of Supreme Court Justices. The Missouri Plan provides for the appointment of the Justices by the Governor, then places them on a non-partisan retention ballot to allow the people to decide if they should remain as Justices. I believe the difficulties far outweigh the benefits of this system. Holding non-partisan elections often shroud the ability of the people to understand where the individuals stand on the issues. Pointed questions are not allowed. The amount of information of their records is nearly impossible to find for most people. Being as such, over 95% of retention ballots are retained. This process simply regurgitates the problems we are seeing.     

Many things have been on a slow fade away from our Founding Fathers original intent in the 1700’s, but here in Oklahoma I look to help to reverse the course in a small way. This year I will be filing a measure to change our Supreme Court Justice selection process from an appointed one by our Governor to an elected one by the people. By designating districts by population much like our Congressional Districts, the people would elect a Supreme Court Justice for their district to a term in Oklahoma City. The Justices would then elect the Chief Justice from among themselves. Our Founding Fathers very much intended for the judicial process infused by the people and not to be appointed by bureaucrats. Enabling accountability by and from the people begins to make this branch of government realize the consequences, good or bad, of their decisions. 

I realize and am not naive to that fact this is a very bold and new solution. The hill is long and the climb will be hard. However, my responsibility is to look into every solution to move our state in a positive direction. Big problems require bold solutions. I believe in this solution. Beginning the dialog this year will perhaps yield to the change this state needs to provide a more transparent and accountable government. 

Please do not hesitate to give me your thoughts and ideas. That’s why I am here! You can email me at:, call me at: 405-557-7349, follow me on Facebook: Representative Josh Cockroft, Twitter: @VoteCockroft27, and my Website:


  1. I am not in your house district sir but I applaud your efforts. Meaningful changes are rarely easy to accomplish.

  2. Wouldn't this actually tend to politicize the judiciary even further? My intitial thinking is that I can easily imagine scenarios where potential judges run as single-issue candidates or make "promises" to voters that they then try to fullfil. I'm not sure that election guarantees or increases independence. I agree that the current system provides insufficient information for a voter to make an informed decision whether or not to retain a judge. But is there a simpler solution that informs and educates us without subjecting judges to the same campaigning and posturing required of legislators? Just thinking...Monty Winters