OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A Tulsa attorney whom the American Bar Association rated as “ not qualified ” to serve as a federal judge was tapped Friday by Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt to serve as the state’s next attorney general.
After a two-month search that began in May after Republican Mike Hunter stepped downsuddenly, Stitt selected John O’Connor, 66, to fill the vacancy, giving the governor an ally in his increasingly contentious relationship with some of the Native American tribes in the state. Stitt and Hunter, both Republicans, occasionally clashed on various matters, including over Stitt’s decision to renegotiate the state’s gaming compacts with Native American tribes.
“It was so important to me to find someone who was highly competent in the law, but more importantly, I was looking for someone with high moral character who will do the right things for the right reasons and never for personal gain,” Stitt said after announcing his pick in Tulsa.
“As the state’s top law enforcer, we needed someone willing to fight and defend what’s best for all 4 million Oklahomans.”
A formal swearing-in ceremony was scheduled for Friday afternoon at the state Capitol.
Stitt said he’s known O’Connor for more than 20 years and considers him a “mentor” who helped advise him when Stitt was CEO of a mortgage company.
O’Connor will have to run for the seat in a statewide election in 2022, and he indicated Tuesday that he “absolutely” plans to do so.
“I want to get in there, get my hands dirty, and I’m sure it will take longer than 16 months,” O’Connor said.
At least one Republican challenger, Tulsa attorney Gentner Drummond, has filed paperwork indicating he plans to seek the post. Drummond lost to Hunter in a GOP primary in 2018 by fewer than 300 votes.
At the Friday morning press conference, O'Connor said he would like to see two major Supreme Court decisions overturned: 1973's Roe v. Wade, which protected reproductive rights and access to abortion care, and last year's McGirt v. Oklahoma, which held that Oklahoma had been illegally usurping criminal jurisdiction on Tribal reservation land for over a century.
"If the question is, 'Will we oppose McGirt?' the answer is yes," O'Connor said in response to a reporter's question. "If the question is, 'Will we seek the overturning by the Supreme Court of McGirt?' the answer is yes."
"I think that we'll pay the price for abortion, as a nation," O'Connor said, after telling reporters he would file an amicus brief in support of Roe being overturned should a relevant case make it to the Supreme Court. "Sometimes the Supreme Court gets it wrong."
O’Connor, an attorney with the Oklahoma-based firm Hall Estill, was nominated for a federal judgeship in 2018 by former President Donald Trump, but failed to advance past a Senate panel after the American Bar Association unanimously rated him not qualified to serve. In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the then head of the association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, Paul Moxley, said O’Connor’s unanimous rating was on the basis of “integrity and professional competence.”