OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Supreme Court's decision to order a Ten Commandments monument removed from the state Capitol grounds has so angered conservatives in the Legislature that some Republicans are calling for justices to be impeached, while others want to amend the Bill of Rights in the 108-year-old state constitution.
The outcry immediately followed the court's 7-2 decision Tuesday that the 6-foot-tall granite monument, which was privately funded by a Republican legislator, had to be removed because it clearly violated the Oklahoma constitution's ban on using public property to benefit a religion.
While several state legislators, including the chairman and vice-chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said they planned to push for a public vote on whether to repeal that ban from the constitution, state Rep. Kevin Calvey led a handful of his GOP colleagues in calling for justices to be impeached.
"Our state Supreme Court is playing politics by issuing rulings contrary to the constitution, and contrary to the will of the clear majority of Oklahoma voters," said Calvey, R-Oklahoma City. "These Supreme Court justices are nothing more than politicians in black robes, masquerading as objective jurists."
Calvey's displeasure with the high court is nothing new. During debate in this year's session on a bill for judicial pay raises, Calvey angrily stated that if he wasn't a Christian, "I'd walk across the street, douse myself with gasoline and set myself on fire" to protest the court's decisions upholding abortion rights.
But calling for the impeachment of justices after a ruling doesn't go in your favor is a dangerous precedent, said David Poarch, a Norman attorney and the president of the Oklahoma Bar Association.
"You don't change the law by impeaching people," Poarch said. "They need to be careful about the rhetoric they throw out, because at some point the electorate is going to decide that maybe the Legislature needs to be impeached."
Rather than tamping down talk of impeachment, GOP House Speaker Jeff Hickman issued a statement saying impeachment is an option within the Legislature's authority and "will be seriously considered," along with possibly amending the constitution or imposing other "judicial reform" measures.
The Oklahoma constitution allows for the governor, elected officers or Supreme Court justices to be impeached for "willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, habitual drunkenness, incompetency, or any offense involving moral turpitude committed while in office."
It's not the first time lawmakers have called for the impeachment of justices. After a sharply divided Supreme Court last year agreed to temporarily halt an execution while an inmate's case over the source of the lethal injection drugs was pending, a member ordered articles of impeachment be drafted for the five justices who favored the stay. The court lifted its stay two days later and the articles were never granted a hearing.
American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma Executive Director Ryan Kiesel, whose attorneys represented the plaintiffs in the Ten Commandments monument case, said the impeachment talk seems more like a political ploy than a practical reality.
"Politicians have no business co-opting the faith and deeply held belief of so many Oklahomans for their own political gain," said Kiesel, a former Democratic state legislator. "That's one of the reasons we have that amendment in the constitution to begin with, is to protect the integrity of Oklahomans from many faith communities from ambitious politicians who would take what is sacred and sully it in the name of getting re-elected."
Meanwhile, Attorney General Scott Pruitt has asked the Supreme Court to let the monument remain on its perch atop the Capitol's north steps while he seeks oral arguments and a rehearing on the case. The attorney general maintains the Ten Commandments has historical and legal importance and that the Legislature is not prohibited from recognizing its secular significance.
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