Skip to main content

Oklahoma Legal Oral History

Interviews with Oklahoma Legal Professionals

Biography

Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Marian P. Opala was born in Poland and served in the British Army during World War II. He became a naturalized US citizen in 1953, the same year he received his law degree from Oklahoma City University School of Law. He was the Administrator of the Oklahoma Judicial system following the Supreme Court scandal of the late 50's and early 60's. His first position as a judge was in the Workers' Compensation Court. Judge Opala was appointed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court by Governor David Boren in 1978. Justice Opala passed away October 11, 2010.

If a researcher wishes to use the information gathered in this interview for uses other than educational or scholarly uses, they may do so without further permission from the estate of the interview subject. 

Audio

Below is a short selection of the interview with Marian Opala. You can listen to the full interview by visiting the Chickasaw Nation Law Library at Oklahoma City University School of Law.

Transcript

Below is an excerpt from Mr. Opala's interview and a link to download the full transcript.

KEK: I know it’s just amazing to me. It’s just amazing. Tell me about some of those important issues that the Oklahoma Supreme Court decides. For those who are not familiar with the role of a state supreme court.

MPO: Many important issues of federal constitutional and state law. I want to tell you about a case that I did not write the Court’s opinion for but it’s my favorite. And I agreed with the Court’s resolution. It had to do with a woman who owned an acreage in western Oklahoma. And she was of far right political persuasion. Close to Adolf Hitler, maybe not quite, but close enough. And she put up a sign saying “Get us out of the United Nations” that was the battle cry of the far right in the United States. They didn’t want to be in the United Nations. They considered that to be Roosevelt’s folly. And Roosevelt meant extreme left. You see, they didn’t like the extreme left. So the Oklahoma Highway Department filed a lawsuit against that woman in the Panhandle, where she had the property, to make her tear down that sign claiming that it distracted motorists and presented an impediment and a hazard to the traffic. The judge there was an old man, very smart. And he immediately discerned that this was freedom of speech case, pure and simple. And you know that under the Federal Constitution, freedom of political speech is absolutely guaranteed. Judges, state or federal, are powerless to muzzle people’s political speech. So, he quickly recognized that and based his decision denying the Highway Department’s request based on the free speech guarantee of the Federal Constitution period. The commission appealed to us, it came to a nine judge court. Eight of us agreed with an opinion that upheld the Panhandle judge on the same grounds that he did: the woman was simply expressing her political bitches. When you express your political bitches you are protected absolutely. Nobody can find fault with anybody who expresses opposition to the government because that would be denying them their freedom, absolute freedom of political speech. And I proudly appended my name to that opinion, though I didn’t write it. Then, the Highway Department requested the U.S. Supreme Court to review our decision and I wasn’t worried about it, I don’t think anybody did. They promptly denied it because, at that time, the Court was just as dedicated to upholding freedom of political speech as we were. We wouldn’t muzzle anybody. That’s illegal. Unconstitutional.

KEK: That’s right. That’s right.

MPO: That was the most fun case because I am a great advocate for political speech freedom. I will never stoop so low as to shut up anybody. No matter what they say. And I didn’t agree with the lady who put up that sign. I didn’t like the United Nations and still don’t, don’t like what they do but, I probably would not have myself advocated that we get out of the United Nations. And the United Nations was sinning because at times it would support Soviet causes. And if you understand the Polish mind of my generation, it is always against anyone who is a supporter of Communism and always against anyone who’s the supporter of Nazis. That’s automatic.

Catalog Record

800 N. Harvey Oklahoma City, OK 73102 405.208.5271