State’s High Court Left Without A Black

Former Justice Tom Colbert is to be replaced on the Oklahoma Supreme Court, a move that will leave the court without a Black member.

Justice Colbert, the first and only Black to serve on the high court when he was appointed by Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, in 2014.

He retired in February.

Gov. Kevin Stitt said earlier this week that he would appoint State Criminal Court Judge Dana L. Kuehn to replace Justice Colbert. 

Judge Kuehn, 50, of Tulsa, a former state prosecutor and associate district judge, has been on the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals since 2017. 

Currently, she is that court’s presiding judge.

She will become the third woman on the nine-person state Supreme Court.

Judge Kuehn’s appointment does not require legislative confirmation.

“Kuehn is a diligent public servant and is well versed in many complex areas of the law,” Gov. Stitt said Monday. 

“I have every confidence in her ability to uphold and defend justice for Oklahomans.”

Judge Kuehn is the governor’s   third pick in less than three years to the state Supreme Court.

Now, the court has five justices appointed by Republicans.  Justices M. John Kane IV and Dustin Rowe were Gov. Stitt’s other selections. 

Justice James R. Winchester was appointed by former Gov. Frank Keating and Justice Richard Darby was appointed by former Gov. Mary Fallin.

Two of Gov. Stitt’s three picks have replaced justices who were appointed by Democrats.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court is the highest court in the state for civil cases.

 In the last two years, it has issued major rulings against Gov. Stitt on the issues of tribal gaming compacts and Medicaid expansion.

On her application to the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission, Judge Kuehn said she wanted to serve on the Oklahoma Supreme Court “to promote faithfulness in legal principles with the mandates of our federal and State Constitutions, and case precedent that binds the judiciary.”

“I understand the role of a litigator, a trial judge, an administrator, a director and an appellate judge,” she wrote.

“I will use the value of these combined experiences if chosen.”

Judge Kuehn was one of three candidates presented to the governor by the commission.

The other two were Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals Judge Stacie Hixon and Tulsa County District Judge Rebecca B. Nightingale.

Judge Kuehn graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Oklahoma State University and she graduated with a law degree from the University of Tulsa.

She worked for the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office from 1996 to 1999 and again from 2002 to 2006.

Judge Kuehn served as an associate district judge in Tulsa County from 2006 to 2017, handling civil and criminal cases, though the majority of her time as a trial judge was spent presiding over a civil docket, according to her application.  She has also served as an adjunct professor of law at the University of Tulsa College of Law.

Gov. Fallin appointed her to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.

During her time as presiding judge this year, the court has extended the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in McGirt vs. Oklahoma.

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