Impact of Right, Left Ideologies Mark Permanent

Justice Marian P. Opala is dedicated to making certain his writings as an Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice are as fair as possible and they follow the constitution.
He knows what happens when either the ‘‘right or left’’ ideologies are dominant.
He was 18 years old in 1939 in his native Poland, which was, at that time, sandwiched between the right of Stalin’s Russia and the left of Hitler’s Germany.
‘‘I am using my brain to follow the law and not be trapped into following the extreme philosophies of Stalin or Hitler,’’ Opala added. ‘‘I avoid the radical law and problems and am bound to steer a just course. I think my foreign background helps me understand and be more even handed and compassionate in the application of the American dream.
‘‘As a result, I always have avoided left and right political philosophies,’’ he said. ‘‘I view my role as that of a facilitator of legislative law for the application to the problems of life and the courts and making them workable.’’
This means filling in gaps in the law left by the legislative inaction with the best rules the Anglo American experience offers.
Opala served on the Workers’ Comp Court from 1977 until November 1978, when he was appointed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
He dealt with broken bones and other injuries as well as the loss of lives in his capacity in the Workers’ Comp Court.
‘‘I tried to deal fairly with the injured employee and his employer alike with my utmost skill, knowledge, and fairness,’’ he said. ‘‘It was a depressing job.’’
Fairness and constitutionality of new laws remains a constant challenge for the court.
The legislature deals with problems in a general sense and then it falls to someone else to implement the laws and make them usable by the courts.
The most important role is to test a challenged law for constitutional conformity.
‘‘This calls on me to declare the law either constitutionally passable by the court or invalid,’’ he said.
It is these rulings that can bring outside pressure on the court.
Justice Opala feels the court always is under some form of pressure. The real stress comes from within — from each justice — as they work hard to ensure work is properly done.
‘‘Because of our knowledge of political forces in action, we generate a personal concern that we don’t offend unless absolutely necessary the dynamic forces in action,’’ Opala said. ‘‘This court must rule only on application of those political ideas to the law. As long as we stay compliant with and confined to that and do not attempt to do any political preaching, we have done our job.
‘‘If what I do does not please the great political forces in action, I can always say that my job is even harder to solve the issue without regard to the current marketplace is critical,’’ Opala continued. ‘‘The effect of what I do is to stay fair and even-handed in solving problems, especially in constitutional law pronouncements.
‘‘One has to be very careful on the court and be very true to the balances of power that comes through the constitution. I think all of us here have been in public life and understand that our opinions affect the political marketplace. We are not here to please, or displease any political forces. We are here to find fair and even-handed solutions within the law, leaving the rest to the legislature and the executive branch.’’
Looking to the future, Opala said law school curricula needs to be readjusted.
Negative forces must be addressed and it is necessary to take the law a distance away from political pressures that would misshape the law.
Those pressures must be avoided or the government of laws and system of rights that have been acquired will be lost, he said. Real government cannot be built around the strength of political pressure that can be brought on the court.
Law schools have an important role in keeping the law from politics, he said.
Opala teaches classes at the University of Tulsa College of Law and the University of Oklahoma College of Law.
He teaches in Tulsa in the fall and at OU during the spring semester.
He also wants to see future attorneys ready to practice in their chosen discipline and perhaps some will serve as judges in the future.
‘‘I am very concerned about pressures that are brought about by congressional action that subsequently lead to political pressures on the court,’’ Opala continued. ‘‘I am extremely disappointed by the recent Congressional investigation of the U.S. Attorney General’s office over the firing of federal prosecutors. I see it as a threat to the judiciary. If it can be done to the Attorney General of the U.S., then it also can be done to a U.S. judge.’’
To discourage these actions, the public needs to be fully aware of the actions of the culprits who must face appropriate consequences, he said. Those consequences can be prosecution, fines or other actions appropriate to the situation.
Opala personally agrees with retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, whom he knows personally, in her observation that courts are indeed being threatened.
This happens when pressure is brought on judges to yield to political influences.
Justice O’Connor served with integrity and is an excellent, excellent icon and a symbol of what a judge should be.
She is the leading example of a federal judge on the highest court of this nation, he said.
There is something about being an Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice that invigorates Opala.
‘‘I like my job,’’ he continued. ‘‘I like my waking up and thinking about the challenges that are ahead each day. I am 86 years old. I can’t think of retiring because this job provides me with opportunities I wouldn’t have if I were a retiree.’’

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