- This article is about the political and administrative structures (executive, legislative and judiciary) of Oklahoma. For information about political groups and tendencies in Oklahoma, see Politics of Oklahoma.
|This article is part of the series:
Politics and government of
The government of the US State of Oklahoma, established by the Oklahoma Constitution, is a republican democracy modeled after the Federal government of the United States. The state government has three branches: the executive, legislative, and judicial. Through a system of separation of powers or "checks and balances," each of these branches has some authority to act on its own, some authority to regulate the other two branches, and has some of its own authority, in turn, regulated by the other branches.
The state government is based in Oklahoma City and the head of the executive branch is the Governor of Oklahoma. The legislative branch is called the Legislature and consists of the Oklahoma Senate and the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The Oklahoma Supreme Court and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals are the state's highest courts.
General principles 
The state government of Oklahoma is divided into an executive, a legislative and a judicial branch. The governor, the state's chief executive, has a degree of direct executive power but must share executive power with other state-wide elected officers. The Lieutenant Governor serves as the first-in-line successor to the Governorship should a vacancy occur.
The legislature comprises the House of Representatives and the Senate. It passes statutes, votes on the budget, and controls the action of the executive through oversight and the power of impeachment. The President pro tempore of the Senate presides over the Senate and the Speaker of the House presides over the House of Representatives. Both officers are in line to succeed to the Governorship in the event of a vacancy, behind the Lieutenant Governor.
The independent judiciary is based on the common law system which evolved from use in the British Empire. It is divided into the two courts of last resort, one (the Supreme Court) dealing with civil law and the other (the Court of Criminal Appeals) dealing with criminal law. The Court on the Judiciary is responsible for monitoring the activities of judges, except those of the Supreme Court. The Court of Impeachment monitors the activities of all state-wide elected officials, including the Justices of the Supreme Court.
Current Offices 
|Governor of Oklahoma||Mary Fallin||January 10, 2011||Republican|
|Lieutenant Governor||Todd Lamb||January 10, 2011||Republican|
|Secretary of State||Glenn Coffee||January 10, 2011||Republican|
|State Auditor and Inspector||Gary Jones||January 10, 2011||Republican|
|Attorney General||Scott Pruitt||January 10, 2011||Republican|
|State Treasurer||Ken A. Miller||January 10, 2011||Republican|
|State School Superintendent||Janet Barresi||January 10, 2011||Republican|
|Labor Commissioner||Mark Costello||January 10, 2011||Republican|
|Insurance Commissioner||John D. Doak||January 10, 2011||Republican|
|Corporation Commissioner (by length of tenure)||Bob Anthony||January 9, 1989||Republican|
|Corporation Commissioner||Dana Murphy||January 12, 2009||Republican|
|Corporation Commissioner||Patrice Douglas||October 10, 2011||Republican|
A popular referendum approved the constitution of the Oklahoma on September 17, 1907, which came into effect upon Oklahoma's ratification of the United States Constitution on November 17, 1907. The ratification of both documents marked Oklahoma as the 46th US State.
The constitution contains a bill of rights in itself, but its preamble mentions the principles the government of Oklahoma is to uphold. The constitution's preamble states that the state government is to:
- "...secure and perpetuate the blessing of liberty; to secure just and rightful government; [and] to promote our mutual welfare and happiness..."
Among these foundational principles protected by the Oklahoma bill of rights are: political power derives from the consent of the people; the people have the inherent rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the enjoyment of the gains of their own industry; the right to peaceful assembly; a ban on the interference with suffrage; the definition of treason; the right to trial by jury; and that marriage in the State of Oklahoma is defined as being between a man and a woman.
Legislative Branch 
The legislative branch is the branch of the Oklahoma State government that creates the laws of Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Legislature, which makes up the legislative branch, consists of two chambers: the Senate and the House of Representatives. All of the State's legislative authority is vest within the Legislature. The most important of these powers are the powers to levy and collect taxes, borrow money, raise and maintain the militia of the State. The constitution grants the Legislature the authority to legislate on all rightful subjects of legislation.
The Legislature meets for one 4-month regular session each year from February to May However, under special circumstances, the Governor or the two-thirds of Legislature can call special sessions. The Governor has a strong influence in shaping the agenda of the Legislature. All acts of the Legislature must be approved by a majority in both houses and signed by the Governor to be enacted into law. However, should the Governor veto the bill, the Legislature, by a two-third vote in both houses, may over turn the Governor's veto and the bill be enacted into law without the Governor's signature. On appropriations bills, however, the Governor has a line-item veto.
Under the Constitution, members of both houses enjoy the privilege of being free from arrest in all cases, except for treason, felony, and breach of the peace. This immunity applies to members during sessions and when traveling to and from sessions. The constitution also guarantees absolute freedom of debate in both houses, providing, "for any speech or debate in either House, shall not be questioned in any other place."
Members of the Legislature are limited to a combined total of 12 years service in the Legislature, regardless of house.
The Senate is the upper house of the Legislature with its 48 seats divided equally among the state's 48 senatorial districts. The State Senators serve a four-year staggered term, with half of the Senate up for reelection every even numbered year. The presiding officer in the Senate is the Lieutenant Governor in their role as President of the Senate. However, the Lieutenant Governor does not normally preside, so in place of the Lieutenant Governor is President pro tempore of the Oklahoma Senate, who is third in line to succeed the Governor in the event of his removal from office.
The Senate is required to give their advice and consent to many executive branch appointments made by the Governor.
House of Representatives 
The House of Representatives is the lower house of the Legislature with its 101 seats divided equally among the state's 101 house districts. Each member serves for a two-year term with the entire House up for reelection every even numbered year. The presiding officer in the House is the Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, who is fourth in line to succeed the Governor after the Lieutenant Governor and President Pro Tempore of the Senate.
All bills for raising revenue may only originate in the House of Representatives though the Senate may alter and amend them as the body sees fit.
Executive Branch 
The executive branch is the branch of the Oklahoma State government that executes the laws of Oklahoma. The branch, consisting of over 300 state agencies, boards, and commissions, is headed by the Governor of Oklahoma, who is assisted by eleven other state-wide officials.
Governor of Oklahoma 
The Governor is both head of state and head of government for Oklahoma. Under the constitution, the Governor is elected to serve a four-year term. Originally, the Governor was term limited to only one term in office at a time but this has since been modified to allow up to two consecutive terms. The Governor presides over the executive branch, commands the militia of the state, and makes sure that the laws of the state are enforced and that the peace is preserved. The Governor is the State's chief representative and spokesperson to the other states within the United States, the United States federal government, and all foreign nations. The Governor must sign all bills passed by the Legislature in order for those bills to become law. Should the Governor veto a bill, the Legislature may override his veto with a two-thirds vote.
In certain emergencies the Governor may assume special, comprehensive powers. These powers involve greater police power and near absolute control over state, county, and local agencies and resources. During emergencies, the Governor is also allowed a limited-form of rule by decree. All state, county, and local officers and personnel become subject to the Governor during the emergency and must obey his directions. With the exception of the members of the Legislature, any official who fails to obey any of his orders may be removed from office by the Governor.
However, in normal times, the Governor may not enact legislation or directly control the county and local agencies. The Governor may issue executive orders (when empowered to do so by a specific provision of the Constitution or an act of the Legislature) which are binding throughout the State. Such executive order do not have the force of law and may only be issued when related directly to the Governor's duties. If the Legislature is controlled by his political party, however, the Governor may strongly suggest the adoption of certain legislation, or request other executive officers to take such actions as the Governor sees fit.
In order to be elected Governor, any gubernatorial candidate is required to obtain a state-wide plurality of all votes cast in their election. Given the dominance of the two-party system in Oklahoma (between the Democrats and the Republicans), the plurality is often a majority as well. However, in case the event that two or more candidates have an equal number of votes, the Legislature, by joint ballot, elects one of those candidates Governor.
The constitution names the Governor the state's chief magistrate and vested in him the supreme executive power. As a consequence, the Governor is the preeminent figure in Oklahoma politics. Though he shares power with many other executive officers, in the event of a vacancy anywhere in the executive branch, he appoints their successor. The Governor appoints the heads of most all state departments and agencies as well as the members of most state commissioners and boards. However, these appointments do require Senate approval. Some serve at his pleasure while others serve fixed terms.
|2010 gubernatorial election, Oklahoma|
|Republican gain from Democratic|
Lieutenant Governor 
The Lieutenant Governor is the second highest official in the Oklahoma government and the first in line to succeed to the Governorship in the event of a vacancy. Though elected for a four-year term that runs concurrent with that of the Governor, the two do not run together as running mates. In the absence of the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor assumes all powers and duties of office of Governor. However, as long as the Governor remains in the state and is capable of discharging his duties as Governor, the Lieutenant Governor's main role is that of the President of the Oklahoma Senate, a position of limited de jure influence.
The Lieutenant Governor's de facto power is based primarily upon the individual holding the office. When the Governor and Lieutenant Governor are of the same political party, the Governor often uses the Lieutenant Governor as a chief adviser or appointee. However, when the two are differing political parties, the Lieutenant Governor's influence is minimal.
Independent executive offices 
Alongside the Governor and Lieutenant Governor are ten other independent executive offices. With the exception of the Secretary of State, these independent offices do not owe loyalty to the Governor as they are elected state-wide and exercise authority outside the control of the Governor. The general rule is that, while independent of the Governor, the other state-wide executive officers are at the disposal of the Governor as he is the chief executive. This is enforced through statutory restriction on the independent offices authority to act without the Governor's approval and the ability of the Governor to force the independent offices to act according to his will. The greatest power of the Governor over the independent executive offices is the Governor's ability to determine each office's annual budget.
These executive officers have some specialized regulatory power, some executive power, and some quasi-judicial power. The Governor and Legislature often consult them on matters before enacting new laws.
The independent executive offices are as follows:
- The Attorney General of Oklahoma serves as the state's chief legal officer and adviser. Either the Attorney General himself or one of his officers represents the State in all litigation or hearing before boards and commissions. One of the main responsibilities of the Attorney General is to issue opinions on laws to state officials. The Attorney General can also call multi-county grand juries to investigate crimes that have occurred in more than one county.
- The Secretary of State of Oklahoma was an elected official from statehood until 1975 when it become appointed by the Governor with the approval of the Senate. The state's chief elections officer and certification official, the Secretary of State is responsible for maintaining the Great Seal of Oklahoma and the original Constitution signed in 1907. The Secretary of State is also responsible for various executive, legislative, and judicial functions within the State government. The Secretary of State also serves as a member of the Governor's Cabinet.
- The Oklahoma State Treasurer is the administrator and manager of the state's depository of all state funds collected by Oklahoma's various state agencies. The office's major duty is to select banks and investments in which to place State funds to yield profit for the State at large. The Treasure maintains an accurate account of all money received and distributed by the Oklahoma State Treasury. The Treasurer also delivers all state warrants, checks, and bonds to the Oklahoma Office of State Finance.
- The Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction, often referred to as the Oklahoma State School Superintendent, supervises and manages the public school system of the state and serves as the chair of the Oklahoma State Board of Education. The Superintendent publishes school laws, opinions of the laws, and submits annual reports to the Governor on the condition of public schools. The Superintendent as also an ex officio member of the State Emergency Fund Board and chairman of the State Career Tech Board. In order to hold this office, a candidate must be the same qualifications as the Governor along with a master's degree in school administration and a valid administrator's certificate.
- The Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner main duty is administer state laws dealing with insurance companies operating in the State. The Commissioner possesses great power in auditing insurance companies to make certain that they pay claims to their policy holders. When ever an insurance company faces financial issues, courts usually appoints the Commissioner to serve as a trustee.
- The Oklahoma Corporation Commission consists of three Corporation Commissioners, each of at least 30 years, serving staggered six-year terms. The three Commissioners regulates rates charged by and otherwise supervises all public utilities (including telephone, electric, gas, and water) doing business within the State. The Commission also regulates all cotton gin, trucking, and public transportation businesses. The Commission enforces oil and gas conservation laws and regulates pipeline companies. The Commission is empowered to inspect the books and records of companies operating under their supervision and have extensive power to punish violators of its orders. In order to serve on the Corporation Commission, a candidate can not own personal interests within the companies the Commission regulates.
- The Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector prescribes a uniform system of bookkeeping for the county treasurers and the State Treasurer. Twice annually, without notice, the Auditor and Inspector audits the books and accounts of the State Treasurer and the county treasurers. If wrongdoing is suspected in the state, county, or local governments, the Auditor and Inspector is empowered to investigate, audit the books of the suspect in question, and make recommendations to solve the problem.
- The Oklahoma Labor Commissioner is responsible for supervising the administration of all state laws relating to labor and workplace safety and gathers and publishes information about the workforce of Oklahoma.
The State Cabinet 
With the exception of the independent constitutional executive offices, the Governor oversees the entire state executive branch. It is organized into several dozen departments, of which, all have been grouped together under a Cabinet Area to reduce the number of people who report directly to the Governor. For example, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority are organized in the Transportation Cabinet Area. The vast majority of state government agencies and departments are headquartered in Oklahoma City or Tulsa, with the larger agencies and departments having district offices around the state which report to headquarters in Oklahoma City or Tulsa.
All Cabinet Areas are headed by Cabinet-level officers who all hold the title of "Secretary". The head of a department usually holds the title of "director" or "commissioner". A Cabinet Secretary may serve concurrently as a Department Director. The Governor appoints, with the approval of the Oklahoma Senate, all the Secretaries. Each of the Secretaries advise the Governor on any policy changes or problems within their Cabinet Area, represent the Governor in administering their Cabinet Area as directed by the Governor, and to coordinate information gathering on their Cabinet Area for the Governor Legislature as may be required. The Secretaries, however, may not direct nor control any department within their Cabinet Area without authorization by the Governor through executive order.
All Cabinet Secretary together make up the Oklahoma State Cabinet. Created in 1986 under the Executive Branch Reform Act of 1986, the Cabinet was implemented to provide better organization and administration to the various state departments, agencies, boards, commissions and other entities of the executive branch to "improve the effectiveness, efficiency and accountability of state government."
Within 45 days of assuming office, the Governor must organize his cabinet. State law requires only the creation of the Department of Veteran Affairs and the Department of Information Technology. Within those first 45 days, the Governor may create any department he desires and place under them any agencies, committees, and boards with "similar programmatic or administrative objectives" as the Governor determines. The Governor must create at least 10 departments but no more than 16 (including the Departments of Veteran Affairs and Information Technology). After the Governor has created the Cabinet he may not unilaterally change its composition. This would require legislation from the Legislature at the initiation of the Governor.
All of the Secretaries serve at the pleasure of the Governor, and may be removed from their position at any time. However, should a Secretary also be the head of an agency, their addition to or removal from the Cabinet will not affect their position within the agency. When ever a Secretary position is vacant, for any reason, the Governor must appoint a replacement within 30 calendar days, who must be confirmed by the Senate. Should the Senate not be in session, the appointment candidate may serve in the Secretary position until the Senate reconvenes to confirm the appointment.
The Secretary of State of Oklahoma and the Adjutant General of Oklahoma are the only ex officio members of the Cabinet, both of whom are appointed by the Governor for reasons other than the State Cabinet. The Secretary of State does not head a Department as the other Secretaries do, but the Office of the Secretary of State instead. The Adjutant General is second-in-command of Oklahoma National Guard, under the Governor, and serves as the chief military adviser to the Governor and the head of the Military Department of Oklahoma as the Secretary of the Military.
The sixteen Secretary positions within the Oklahoma Cabinet under current Governor Brad Henry are as followed:
- The Secretary of Agriculture is mainly a regulatory agency, oversees departments that protect and educate consumers about Oklahoma's agricultural and livestock productions. It includes the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry.
- The Secretary of Commerce and Tourism is charged with the creation and retention of jobs, the growth of investment, the development of communities, the increase of per capita income within the State, and the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. The Oklahoma Department of Commerce is also designated as the State Energy Office for Oklahoma, managing funds from the U.S. Department of Energy division of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
- The Secretary of Education oversees Oklahoma Public School system and the state's libraries, regulates and informs citizens on careers in education. It includes the office of the Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction.
- The Secretary of Energy oversees the production and regulation of Oklahoma's energy producers and the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. The Oklahoma Department of Energy was abolished in 1981, as referenced in Oklahoma Statutes, Title 74, Section 3361.1.
- The Secretary of the Environment is charged with the protection and enhancement of Oklahoma's environment and natural resources through preservation, conservation, restoration, education and enforcement to maintain and improve the environmental quality and natural beauty of the state and better the standard of living for all Oklahomans.
- The Secretary of Finance and Revenues oversees the collection of taxes and administers the state treasury. It includes the State Treasurer of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Auditor and Inspector.
- The Secretary of Health is charged with the protection and promotion of health of the citizens of Oklahoma, to prevent disease and injury and to assure conditions for good health, oversees both physical and mental health as well as substance abuse and health care.
- The Secretary of Human Services oversees the largest state department and is responsible for overseeing child care, disability services, foster care, adoption agencies, and other human services agencies, boards, and commissions.
- The Secretary of Human Resources and Administration is responsible for providing comprehensive human resource services to all state agencies and employees, such as overseeing employee benefits and employment securities. It contains the Office of Personnel Management
- The Secretary of Information Technology oversees the use of information technology and telecommunications by the state government and serves as the chief information officer of the state. Permanent Cabinet Department.
- The Secretary of the Military runs the day to day administration of the Oklahoma National Guard, including the organization, training, and preparation of the Guard. The Adjutant General of Oklahoma is the ex offico Military Secretary.
- The Secretary of Public Safety provides safety and security for Oklahoma's citizens through law enforcement and protection agencies, runs the State correction penitentiaries/ It includes the office of the Attorney General of Oklahoma, Oklahoma District Attorneys Council, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
- The Secretary of Science and Technology oversees all efforts to use science and technology to improve government to better serve the citizens of Oklahoma.
- The Secretary of Transportation is charged with providing a safe, economical, and effective transportation network for the people, commerce and communities of Oklahoma. It oversees the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority and all Ports Authorities within the state.
- The Secretary of Veterans Affairs is charged with ensuring all Oklahoma veterans and their families receive all possible benefits and providing health services and long-term skilled care in a residential environment to all qualified veterans residing in the state. The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs is a permanent Cabinet Department.
- The Secretary of State
Judicial Branch 
The judicial system of Oklahoma is the branch of the Oklahoma state government that interprets the state's laws and constitution. Headed by the Supreme Court, the judiciary consists of two courts of last resort, courts of general jurisdiction, and courts of limited jurisdiction. Also, the Oklahoma judiciary contains two independent courts. The split court of last resort system (with the Oklahoma Supreme Court handling civil matters and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals handing criminal matters) exists only in Oklahoma and neighboring Texas.
All judges and justices requiring appointment are appointed by the Governor. Candidates must first go through a nominating process through the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission, which selects three candidates to submit to the Governor for a single selection to the office.
The Supreme Court 
The Supreme Court consists of a Chief Justice, a Vice-Chief Justice, and seven Associate Justices who are appointed by the Governor from a list of three judges submitted by the Judicial Nomination Commission. Justices are put on the ballot during the next general election for the electorate to retain that Justice or not. Justices serve six years terms and then are put up for another retention election. Justices serve until they resign, fail to be retained in office, are removed from office by the Court on the Judiciary, or are impeached by the legislative branch. The Supreme Court's decisions are binding on all lower state courts.
The court has original jurisdiction have general superintendent control over all inferior courts in the judiciary and all agencies, commissions and boards exercising power under the constitution. The court has appellate jurisdiction co-extensive with that of the state's borders on all cases "at law and in equity" except criminal cases, in which the Court of Criminal Appeals has exclusive appellate jurisdiction. If in any event there is any conflict in determining which court has jurisdiction, the Supreme Court is granted the power to determine which court has jurisdiction, with no appeal from the Court's determination.
The Supreme Court supervises the lower courts through the Administrative Office of the Courts, and also supervises Oklahoma's legal profession through the Oklahoma Bar Association. All lawyer admissions and disbarment are done through recommendations of the Association, which are then routinely ratified by the Supreme Court. The Association has approximately 11,000 active attorneys in Oklahoma and a total membership of more than 15,000.
Five of the nine justices are required to affair, modify, or overturn any ruling of any lower court. Once the Court has reached a decision, one justice is selected to write the Court's opinion. Once published, the opinion becomes the controlling factor in the state's law surrounding the issue(s) it addresses. This is known as stare decisis.
The justices select from among their members a Chief Justice and Vice Chief Justice to serve two-year term. The Chief Justice of Oklahoma is responsible for the administration of all courts in the Oklahoma Judiciary and establishes rules for all courts to follow. The Chief Justice also oversees all practicing attorneys in the State.
The Court of Criminal Appeals 
The Court of Criminal Appeals consists of a Presiding Judge and four Judges who are appointed by the Governor from a list of three judges submitted by the Judicial Nomination Commission. Justices are also ratified by the electorate at the next general election following their appointment and at the end of each six-year term. Justices serve until they resign or fail to be retained in office. The Supreme Court's decisions are binding on all lower state courts.
Unlike most states, Oklahoma has two courts of last resort. The Supreme Court determines all issues of a civil nature, and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals decides all criminal matters. Unlike the Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeal has mandatory review jurisdiction when ever a sentence from a lower court involved the death sentence.
Court of Appeal justices are selected, confirmed, and ratified just like the Supreme Court justices.
The Court of Civil Appeals 
The state created the Court of Civil Appeals because the Oklahoma Supreme had neither the time nor resources to hear all cases brought before it. When a case is brought before the Oklahoma Supreme, the Supreme Court may choose to send the case to one of the four division of the Court of Civil Appeals, two located in Tulsa and two in Oklahoma City. Each division of the court has three judges, appointed for life, but must stand for election every six years to retain their positions.
Two of the three judges may choose to reaffirm, modify, or overturn any ruling of any lower court. However, if the Oklahoma Supreme Court disapproves of the courts ruling, it may review the decision and change it as the Court deems necessary.
The District Courts 
Each of Oklahoma's 77 counties has its own district court, which adds up to a total of 77 District Courts. The District Courts have general jurisdiction over all civil and criminal matters, with the exception of certain limited areas like workers' compensation where original jurisdiction is reserved by statute to other courts. Each District Court is presided over by either a single or multiple District Judges with at least one Associate District Judge to administer justice in each county. The judges are elected, in a nonpartisan manner, to serve a four-year term. In the event of a vacancy in any of the district courts, the Governor appoints a judge to serve until the next elections. In the event of a heavy caseload in the district, a Special Judge may be appointed to assist the District Judge.
The 77 District Courts are divided into 27 Districts, with each district having at least one District Judge to over the Associate District Judges. Above the 27 District are nine Judicial Administrative Districts (JAD), involving several Districts, to assure a well-organized system. From among the District Judges of the JAD, one is selected to serve as the Presiding Judge, who is responsible for the administrative matters of their district. The Presiding Judge is answerable to the Supreme Court.
Civil appeals are heard by the Oklahoma Supreme Court and criminal appeals are heard by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.
All District Judges must live in the district in which they are seeking election. Associate judges must have been a practicing lawyer or judge for the past two years. There are a total of about 71 District Judges, 77 Associate District Judges, and 78 Special District Judges.
Courts of Limited Jurisdiction 
- The Workers' Compensation Court is a special court, consisting of ten judges, that hears all worker's compensation claims. The judges are selected by the Governor to serve a six-year term. All claims submitted are heard by a single judge in either Tulsa or Oklahoma City. If a party disapproves of the judge's ruling, they may appeal to a three judge panel called the Court En Banc. Appeals for the Court En Banc are heard by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
- The Court on Tax Review is a special court in the Oklahoma judiciary charged with hearing disputes involving illegal taxes levied by county and city governments. All tax review cases are sent to the Chief Justice of Oklahoma, who then sends the claim to the presiding judge of the administration district from which the claim originated. The presiding judge then appoints three judges to serve as the Court on Tax Review. Appeals from the court are heard by the Oklahoma Supreme Court
Independent judicial bodies 
Though party of Oklahoma's court system, there are two courts the operate without the oversight of the Supreme Court.
The Court on the Judiciary 
The Court on the Judiciary is one of the two independent courts in the Oklahoma Judiciary. The court responsible for removing judges from their position if they have committed legal acts. One of two such courts in the nation (other than Texas), the Court on the Judiciary insure that other courts best administer justice.
If any judge exercising judicial power under the Oklahoma Constitution, other than the Justices of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, are found guilty of gross neglect of duty, corruption in office, habitual drunkenness, commission while in office of any offense involving moral turpitude, gross partiality in office, oppression in office, or other grounds as specified by the legislature may be either forcefully removed from office. Forced retirement may occur if the court finds the judge in question to be mentally or physically to perform their job. No other penalties may be imposed by this court, however later charges may be levied by other courts.
The Court on the Judiciary consists of a nine-member Trial Division and a five member Appellate Division. The courts jurisdiction may be called into force by the Governor, Attorney General, Oklahoma Supreme Court, the Oklahoma Bar Association, or by the House of Representatives. Also, private citizens can file a formal complaint against a judge to be heard by the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints. It the complaint is approved, the case is heard by the Trial Division of the Court.
All cases brought before the Court are heard by the Trial Division. Any appeals from the Trial Division are heard by the Appellate Divisions. There are no appeals from the Appellate Division's decisions, and not even the Oklahoma Supreme Court may change its rulings.
The Court of Impeachment 
The Court of Impeachment, which is the Senate sitting, is the second independent court in the Oklahoma judiciary. Impeachment charges are brought by the House of Representatives, and they are heard by the Senate, with the Chief Justice of Oklahoma presiding, unless the Chief Justice or any member of the Oklahoma Supreme Court is charged, in which case the Senate shall select one of its own members to preside.
Impeachment charges may only be brought against the Governor and all other statewide elected state officials (including the Oklahoma Supreme Court Justices) for willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, habitual drunkenness, incompetency, or any offense involving moral turpitude committed while in office. If impeached, all officials are immediately suspended in discharging their duties. Should the impeachment fails, the officer in question returns to their duties. However, if the impeachment is successful and the defendant found guilty, the person is removed from office.
The Judicial Nominating Commission 
The Judicial Nominating Commission is body which selects potential justices and judges for gubernatorial appointments for judicial positions on Oklahoma's appellate courts. In the event of a vacancy, for whatever reason, within the Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, or the Court of Civil Appeals, the Commission screens a list of applicants that desire that job. Next, the Commission selected three qualified nominees and presents the names to the Governor. The Governor may then appoint one of the nominees to position with further approval not necessary. If the Governor fails to appoint a nominee to the position within sixty days, the Chief Justice of Oklahoma may make the selection.
County government 
The county is the primary administrative division of Oklahoma. They are bodies politic and corporate. There are seventy-seven counties in the state. Counties contain a number of towns and cities as well as all unincorporated land in the state. Every county has a county seat, often a populous or centrally located city or village, where the county government is headquartered.
In traditional Midwest fashion, counties in Oklahoma possess a moderate scope of power. As extensions of the state government, counties are primarily administrative bodies which possess executive and limited judicial powers, but not legislative powers. Their primary responsibilities are related to managing, planning and governing all unincorporated land within their borders. These include overall planning, police service, as well as some legal services. The counties keep records of deaths, births, marriages, divorces, property ownership, and court activities within the county. The counties must also maintain a court system, law enforcement, road and bridge construction, and voter registration.
As extensions of the state government, the counties are responsible for six major services:
- Maintaining the peace and protecting life and property
- Assessing and collecting taxes to operate the county
- Compile, record, and preserve public records essential to maintaining individual property rights
- Building and maintain public roads, highways, and bridges
- Providing facilities for courts and the administration of justice through the District Court system
- Caring for the needy and indigent, orphaned children, and the aged
Each county government is composed of eight elected officials and a District Attorney. All county officials serve four-year terms beginning on the first Monday in January following their election.
The Board of County Commissioners 
Each county is headed by a Board of County Commissioners consisting of three elected County Commissioners. The Board serves as the quasi-head of government, with the Chair of Board as the quasi-head of state, of the county. Each county is divided into three districts drawn based on equal population. From each of the three districts, a County Commissioner is elected independently from the other two Commissioners. The three Commissioners serve collegiately, with each having equal voting powers and a yearly rotating chairmanship.
The Board supervises all county administration, manages all property owned by the county, prepares the county budget (unless the county has adopted the County Budget Board), and advertises bids for all major county purchases and contracts. The Commission is also empowered to audit and approve claims against the county, propose county bonds, and audit the accounts of all other county offices. The Commission's other duties include the maintenance of traffic control devices, the power to approve zoning applications, and the administration of all federal funds provided to the county.
All powers of a county are exercised by the Board. Only the Board may purchase equipment, machinery, supplies or materials of any kind for the county and all contracts and agreements relating to the leasing or rental of county equipment or otherwise relating to the business of the county are negotiated by the Commission. It is in the name of the County Commission that the county sues and is sued.
The Board meets in regular session on or before the first Monday of each month and may stay in session for as long as the Commission determines. However, the Board must adjourn by the last business day of each month. Should the Board adjourn before the last business day of a month, the County Clerk may call the Board into special session. All meetings of the Board are open to the public.
The County Sheriff 
The County Sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer in the county and peace officer. The Sheriff must be at least 25 years old, have been a resident of Oklahoma for two years, a qualified elector in the county, and possess at least a high school diploma. In counties with over 80,000 citizens, the Sheriff must be a certified peace officer at election. However, in counties with under 80,000 citizens, the Sheriff is given up to 12 months after the election to become certified.
When it comes to the responsibilities of the Sheriff, Oklahoma's outlaw history has bestowed the Sheriff with what is seen as full services, that is, providing tradition law-enforcement functions, including countywide patrol and investigations irrespective of municipal boundaries. As the chief peace officer, the Sheriff is responsible for ensuring the peace is preserved, riots are suppressed, and that unlawful assemblies and insurrections are controlled. The Sheriff is vested with the power to form a posse of able-bodied men to assist him in controlling riots and lawlessness. The Sheriff also serves as the executive of all court orders and other lawful authorities within the county. To ensure justice is administered, the Sheriff is empowered to apprehend any person charged with a felony or breach of the peace and may attend any court within the county.
In order to prevent the Sheriff from abusing their position, the Sheriff is required to account for all funds collect by the office and to make a monthly report to the County Commissioners.
The District Attorney 
While not a county official since 1967, the District Attorney replaced the County Attorney as the chief legal officer of the county. There are 27 judicial districts with one District Attorney serving all counties located within their district. The main purpose of the office is the prosecution of all criminal actions that occur in counties in their district as well as prosecuting and defending all civil action in which any county in their district is concerned. To perform their duties, the District Attorneys are empowered to appoint assistant district attorneys, investigators, and clerks so that each county in their districts has at least one assistant district attorney. As members of the State executive branch, all officers and offices under the District Attorney are paid by the State and not the County.
Independent county office 
Alongside the three County Commissioners, the County Sheriff, and the District Attorney, are four other county offices:
- The County Clerk serves as the county's official record keeper and serves as the Secretary for the County Commission. The County Clerk is the county's bookkeeper, auditing and paying all salaries and claims for the county. The Clerk is thus empowered to write checks to all local governments for their appropriate funds. All medical licenses, tax records, and tax deeds are filled with the County Clerk. The Clerk is also the county's official Registrar of Deeds.
- The District Court Clerk is responsible for recording, filing, and maintaining the records of all civil and criminal cases brought before the District Court. The Clerk also collects and accounts for all of the Court's fines and costs. The Court Clerk maintains the court schedule, keeps record of all jurors and witnesses, issues subpoenas, certain licenses, and is answerable to the Oklahoma Supreme Court for the District Court's statistics.
- The County Assessor is the core of the Oklahoma property tax system. The Assessor is required to establish the market and taxable value of all real and business property in the county. Each year, the Assessor prepares ex assessments and submits them to the County Treasurer. The Assessor doses not raise or lower the property tax, only sets the value of the property.
- The County Treasurer is charged with the collection of all taxes certified by the County Assessor. After collection, the taxes are distributed by the Treasurer according to the county budget. The Treasure also serves as the official custodian of all county funds. All warrants and vouchers for all county departments are managed by the Treasurer's office.
Municipal government 
Within Oklahoma there are two types of municipal governments: cities and towns. Population determines which type of government is in place. Both are municipal corporations in that they can both sue and be sued, may own and sell property, create debt, and may levy and collect taxes. They are the most basic level of government in Oklahoma and are also the most accessible.
The term of office of all municipal official is four years with elections held on the first Tuesday of April of each odd-numbered year.
Including both cities and towns, Oklahoma has 589 municipalities.
Right to Incorporate 
Any area in Oklahoma, regardless of population, may incorporate. The County Commission supervises all incorporations in their county. Persons wishing to incorporate must first provide an accurate survey of the area to be incorporated to the Commission. Next, within thirty days of applying for incorporation, a census must be taken to show the number of people living in the to be incorporated area. The petition to incorporate must include the signature of at least one-third of those people. The Commission must then hold a hearing to determine the accuracy of the petition, survey, and census. If the Commission is satisfied that all requirements have been meet, it must issue a writ of election for an election to occur within ten days. If a majority of the qualified voters of the area to be incorporated approve of the incorporation, the community is declared incorporated and assumes the appropriate municipal government.
Municipal corporations with a population of fewer than one thousand are organized as towns while municipal corporations with a population of one thousand or more are organized as cities.
In Oklahoma, a town is the most common division of a county. As prescribed by the Legislature, the government of all towns is that of a Board of Trustees, the simplest government type in Oklahoma. The Board is composed of three or five members, each representing a ward, and elected at large by the town. The Board exercises both executive and legislative functions. The Trustees elect from among themselves a President of the Board, who presides over the board and serves as Mayor of the town. The Mayor is the head of state for the town and, depending on the duties of the given Mayor, may serve as the head of government of the town. The judicial branch is known as Municipal Court, which is a court of no-record in Oklahoma's judicial system.
The Board of Trustees of a town:
- Appoints and removes designated town officers and employees as provided by law or ordinance
- Maintains the public peace and order
- Enacts municipal legislation, including enacting punishment for its violation
- Raises revenue, makes appropriations, and manages all other fiscal affairs of the town
- Inspects the books and accounts maintained by the town treasurer
- Inquires into the conduct of any office, department or agency of the town, and investigates municipal affairs
- Creates, changes and abolishes offices, departments or agencies of the town
- Grants pardons for violation of municipal ordinances, including the remission of fines and costs
A major responsibility of a town is the construction and maintenance of streets, parks, and sewers for the town to use as well as maintaining the public peace. Within each town are three major officials, either elected by the town as a whole or appointed by the Board:
- The Town Clerk serves as the Secretary of the Board and keeps the journal of the proceedings of the Board. The Clerk enrolls all ordinances and resolutions passed by the Board and has custody of all town documents, records, and archives, as well as the town seal. It is the duty of the Clerk to attest and affix the seal of the town to all official town documents.
- The Town Treasurer maintains accounts and books of the town to show where and from what source all monies paid to him have been derived and to whom and when any monies have been paid. The Treasurer deposits the daily funds received for the town in depositories as the Board designates.
- The Town Marshal, officially known as the Town Chief of Police, enforces all municipal ordinances. The Marshal appoints town police officers subject to the approval and confirmation of the Board.
When a town's population reaches one thousand, the municipal incorporation remains classified as a town unless a majority of the qualified voters of the community approve of a change to city government.
Cities provide the same services as towns but operate under one of four possible government structures: aldermanic (weak mayor-council), council-manager, strong mayor-council, and home rule.
Aldermanic Form 
The aldermanic form is the first form of city government provided by the Legislature. Also known as weak mayor government, the governing body of an aldermanic city consists of the Mayor, who is elected at large, and two councilmembers from each ward of the city, forming the City Council. The Mayor serves as the presiding officer of the Council as well as the head of state and head of government of the city. The Mayor may vote on the Council but only when the Council is equally divided. The Mayor may sign or veto any city ordinance or resolution passed by the Council. Any ordinance or resolution vetoed by the Mayor may be overturned by a two-thirds vote of the Council.
As the chief executive officer of the city government, the Mayor:
- Appoints, subject to confirmation by the Council, a City Attorney and all heads of city departments
- Signs the commissions and appointments of all city officers
- Removes or suspends city officers or employees for incompetency, neglect, or violation of duty
- Supervises and controls all city departments, agencies, officers, and employees
- Prepares annual budget and submits it to the Council for approval and then is responsible for its implementation
- Keeps the Council advised of the financial condition and future needs of the city
- Makes recommendations to the Council on measures for the well-being of the city
- Enforces the city ordinances and maintains the public peace and order
- Grants pardons for violation of city ordinances with the approval of the Council
The Council elects from among its members a President of the City Council. The Council President is elected each odd-numbered year and serves a two-year term. The Council President act as the Mayor during the absence of the Mayor. In the absence of the Mayor and the Council President, the Council elects one its own members as acting Council President until the Mayor or Council President return.
- Enacts municipal legislation, including enacting punishment for its violation
- Raises revenue, makes appropriations, and manages all other fiscal affairs of the city
- Inquires into the conduct of any city office, department or agency of the city, and investigate municipal affairs
- Creates, changes and abolishes offices, departments or agencies of the city
Council-Manager Form 
The council-manager form is the second form of city government provided by the Legislature. The governing body of a council-manager city is a city council composed of one councilmember from each ward of the city and one-at large councilmember. The council then elects from among its members a Mayor and a Vice-Mayor to serve concurrent two-year terms. The Mayor presides over all meetings of the council. Though recognized as head of state of the city, the Mayor has no regular administrative duties except for signing all conveyances and other written obligations of the city as the council requires. In the absence of the Mayor, the Vice-Mayor acts as the Mayor. If a vacancy occurs in the office of Mayor, the Vice-Mayor becomes the Mayor for the remainder of the unexpired term. When a vacancy occurs in the office of Vice-Mayor, the council will elect another Vice-Mayor from among its members for the remainder of the unexpired term.
Aside from passing ordinances and raising city revenue, the council is responsible for appointing a city manager to serve as the head of government for the city. The city manager is appointed by a majority vote of the council to serve an indefinite term. However, the city manager may be suspended or removed at any time by a majority vote of the council. The city manager must be chosen solely on the basis of executive and administrative qualifications without regard to political affiliation. Neither the Mayor nor any members of the council may be appointed city manager during their term of office or within two years after they cease to hold such office.
The city manager is the chief executive officer of the administrative branch of the city government. He is responsible to the council for executing the laws and administering the government of the city. Most city officials are appointed and removed by the city manager without prior council approval. The city manager also supervises and controls all administrative departments, prepares an annual budget for the council to approve, and is to keep the council advised of the financial condition and future needs of the city.
The city manager may appoint a qualified administrative officer of the city to serve as acting city manager during the temporary absence of the city manager. The council may appoint an acting city manager whenever the city manager fails to make such designation, when the city manager is suspended, or when there is a vacancy in the office of city manager.
For the most part, the city manager is mostly independent of the council in performing his administrative duties. Except for the purposes of inquiry, the council and its members can only deal with the administrative departments of the city solely through the city manager. As such, the council may not direct or request the city manager to appoint or remove city officers or employees or give orders on ordinary administrative matters to any subordinate of the city manager either publicly or privately.
Strong Mayor-Council Form 
The strong mayor-council form, often shortened to simply strong mayor, is the third form of city government provided by the Legislature. The governing body of a strong mayor city consists of the Mayor, who is elected at large, and one councilmember from each ward of the city. The Mayor serves as an ex officio councilmember at large. The council then elects from among its members a Vice-Mayor to serve a two-year term. In the absence of the Mayor, the Vice-Mayor acts as the Mayor. When a vacancy occurs in the office of Vice-Mayor, the council shall elect from among its members another Vice-Mayor for the duration of the unexpired term. When vacancies occur in both the offices of Mayor and Vice-Mayor, the council will elect one of its members to act as Mayor.
When a vacancy occurs in the office of Mayor, the Vice-Mayor acts as Mayor until a Mayor can be elected by the council and qualified. To fill the vacancy, the council elects a registered voter of the city (who may or may not already be a council member at the time) to be Mayor until the next general municipal election and to serve until a successor is elected and qualified. Any vacancy shall then be filled at the next general municipal election by election of candidates for Mayor to complete the balance of any unexpired term. However, if the vacancy has not been filled within sixty days after it occurs, the council must call for a special election for the purpose of filling the vacancy for the duration of the unexpired term. In the event that less than one year remains of the unexpired Mayoral term, the council then elect a Mayor to serve out the remainder of the term.
The Mayor presides over all meetings of the council. As the councilmember at large, the Mayor has all the powers, rights, privileges, duties and responsibilities of any other councilmember, including the right to vote on all questions. However, if the council deems that the Mayor has a personal interest in any matter under consideration, the council may elect any councilmember to preside as temporary president of the council.
The Mayor serves as both head of state and head of government for the city as the city's chief executive officer. He is responsible to the people of the city for executing the laws and for administering the government of the city. In the event of martial law, the Governor of Oklahoma must recognize the Mayor as head of the city. The Mayor appoints and removes most city officials without prior council approval, supervises and controls (either directly or indirectly) all city departments, prepares the annual budget for council approval, keeps the council advised of the financial condition and future needs of the city, and may grant pardons for violations of city ordinances upon the recommendation of the municipal judge.
The Mayor may appoint himself (or the council may elect or appoint him) to other offices and positions in the city government, subject to such regulations as the council prescribes. However, he may not receive additional compensation for such service. The council may provide that the Mayor shall hold ex officio designated administrative offices subordinate to the Mayor as well as other designated compatible city offices.
The City Personnel Board
A unique feature of a strong-mayor city is the presence of a City Personnel Board to ensure that a merit system is employed by the city. The Personnel Board consists of three members elected by the council for staggered six-year terms. The Board elects from among its members a chair and vice-chair. The Personnel Board also elects a Secretary who need not be a member of the Personnel Board.
In strong-mayor form, all city employees (excluding the Mayor and the councilmembers) that are not elected, appointed, or confirmed by the council, members and secretaries of boards, commissions and other plural authorities, and personnel who serve without compensation are part of the classified service. Neither the Mayor nor any other authority may appoint or promote any person in the classified service of the city for any political reason but only for merit and fitness. Any qualified elector of the city may bring an alleged violation of the merit system before the Personnel Board for consideration and determination. Following a public hearing on the issues, if the Board finds to its satisfaction that the appointment or promotion was made in violation of the merit system, it then vetoes the appointment or promotion.
No officer or employee in the classified service may:
...actively influence, or actively attempt to influence, or work actively for, the nomination, election or defeat of any candidate for mayor or councilmember.'—Oklahoma State Statutes
However, they are not prohibited from the ordinary exercise of their right as a citizen to express his opinions and to vote. An officer or employee who violates this section of the merit system may be removed from office or position either by the authority normally having power to remove him, or, after adequate opportunity for a public hearing, by the Personnel Board. An officer or employee who violates this section of the merit system is forbidden to hold any office or position in the city government for four years.
When ever a city officer or employee is laid off, suspended, demoted or removed from office by the Mayor (or subordinate of), that officer or employee may appeal the action to Personnel Board. The appeal must be in writing, and must be filed with the secretary or chair of the Personnel Board within ten days after the effective date of the layoff, suspension, demotion or removal. The Personnel Board must then hold a public hearing on the appeal. The Personnel Board must submit a report of its findings and recommendations to the Mayor. The Mayor then makes the final decision regarding the appellant's layoff, suspension, demotion or removal. However, if the Personnel Board finds to its satisfaction that the layoff, suspension, demotion, or removal was made for a political reason, it shall veto the layoff, suspension, demotion or removal.
Home Rule 
|This section requires expansion. (March 2008)|
Home Rule allows a City with a population of over 2,000 people to establish its own form of government under a City Charter.
Common city officials 
Regardless of form of government, within each city are many common officials, either elected or appointed:
- The Mayor serves as head of state for the city, may either be a ceremonial official or the chief executive officer of the city depending on the city
- The City Manager serves as chief administrative officer of the city in which Mayor is a ceremonial officer
- The City Clerk serves as the Secretary of the Council and keeps the journal of the proceedings of the Council. The Clerk enroll all ordinances and resolutions passed by the Council and has custody of all city documents, records, and archives, as well as the town seal. It is the duty of the Clerk to attest and affix the seal of the town to all official city documents.
- The City Treasurer maintains accounts and books of the city to show where and from what source all monies paid to him have been derived and to whom and when any monies have been paid. The Treasurer deposits the daily funds received for the city in depositories as the Council designates.
- The City Marshal, officially known as the City Chief of Police, enforces all municipal ordinances and supervises all city police officers.
- The City Attorney heads the Legal Department and handles all legal matters of the city.
- The City Street Commissioner heads the Street Department which is responsible for general supervision over maintenance and repair of public streets in the city.
See also 
- Oklahoma Constitution
- Republican form of government
- Governor of Oklahoma
- Oklahoma Legislature
- Oklahoma House of Representatives
- Oklahoma Senate
- Oklahoma Supreme Court
- Politics of Oklahoma
- Oklahoma Democratic Party
- Oklahoma Republican Party
- Oklahoma Libertarian Party
- Green Party of Oklahoma
- Political party strength in Oklahoma
- Article IV, Section 1, Oklahoma Constitution at Oklahoma Public Legal Research System (accessed May 4, 2010)
- Oklahoma Legislature Website. "Okla Const. art. VII, § 4".
- Article VI, Section 4, Oklahoma Constitution at Oklahoma Public Legal Research System (accessed May 4, 2010)
- Okla Const. art. V, § 1-4
- Okla Const. art VIII § 3
- Okla Const. art. V, § 28-29
- Okla Const. art. VI, § 15
- Okla Const. art. VII, § 1
- Okla Const. art. VII-A, § 2
- Okla Const. art. V, § 4
- Okla Const. art. V, § 26-27
- Okla Const. art. V, § 34
- Okla Const. art. VI, § 11
- Coffee v. Henry, 2010 OK 4
- Okla Const. art. V, § 17A
- Okla Const. art. V, § 9A
- Okla Const. art. V, § 10A
- Okla Const. art. V, § 33
- State of Oklahoma. "Agency Directory". Retrieved 2010-04-29.
- Okla Const. art. VI, § 4
- Okla Const. art. VI, § 6
- Okla Const. art. VI, § 8
- Okla Const. art. VI, § 5
- Okla Const. art. VI, § 2
- Okla Const. art. VI, § 13
- "Election Results" (pdf). Oklahoma State Election Board. Retrieved 2010-11-11.
- Okla. Stat. tit. 74, § 2-18b
- Oklahoma Secretary of State. "Duties". Retrieved 2010-04-29.
- Okla Const. art. XIII, § 5
- Oklahoma State Department of Education. "Duties of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction". Retrieved 2010-04-29.
- Okla. Stat. tit. 36, § 1-307
- Okla. Stat. tit. 9, § 9-15,16
- Oklahoma State Auditor & Inspector's Office. "FAQ's". Retrieved 2010-04-30.
- Oklahoma State Court Network, "Justices of the Oklahoma Supreme Court" (accessed April 21, 2010).
- Oklahoma Legislature Website. "Okla Const. art. VII, § 5".
- Stephens, Jerry E., "Judiciary," Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture (accessed June 23, 2010).
- Oklahoma State Court Network, The Supreme Court and the Judicial System" (accessed April 21, 2010).
- Oklahoma's Government official website
- Oklahoma Constitution on the Internet
- Governor of Oklahoma's home page
- Oklahoma Legislature
- Oklahoma Supreme Court Website
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