Gavel Grab

Heated Race for South Carolina Chief Justice Ahead?

south-carolina-flagWill tradition be defied this year, and a fellow South Carolina Supreme Court justice challenge more senior Justice Donald Beatty for the chief justice position — and win support from the legislature?

A lengthy State newspaper article raises this possibility, saying a number of legislators have “questions mainly focused on opinions Beatty has co-authored or joined in in recent years,” and that some leading Republicans hope Justice John Kittredge will challenge Beatty.

Traditionally, the chief justice job goes to the court’s most senior judge. That is Beatty, who is African American — only the second black man on the court since Reconstruction — and seen by some conservative legislators as ruling the wrong way on contentious issues. And the legislature will decide, as lawmakers are scheduled to cast their votes in May.

Kittredge is white. Depending upon what happens, it could become a national news story, according to The State.

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South Carolina Legislature Elects New Judge for High Court

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BULLETIN: The South Carolina legislature elected Judge John Few, head of the state Court of Appeals, to serve on the state Supreme Court, The State newspaper reported on Thursday.

Under a bill pre-filed in the South Carolina legislature, the state would shift from its method of having the legislature elect judges, to popular election of jurists. South Carolina is one of only two states where legislatures elect state jurists.

But that proposed overhaul doesn’t appear to be gaining traction, according to myhorrynews.com, and a narrower reform is getting attention now. It would permit a judicial screening committee to recommend all qualified candidates for a judgeship, as opposed to no more than three.

A recent WBTW article reported on vigorous debate over the proposal for popular election of state judges. Said its Republican sponsor, Rep. Chris Corley,  “I feel like the [existing] system’s fundamentally corrupt.” He explained, “Number one, it’s corrupt when you have attorney-legislators who walk in the courtroom and they’ve elected that judge. Number two, it’s corrupt when it’s used basically as a barter system within the legislature.” Read more

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S.C. Legislators to Elect New High Court Judge

south-carolina-flagVoting in the South Carolina legislature on Wednesday is expected to determine who will fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court. Three rivals are seeking the open seat on the five-member court.

A lengthy article in The State newspaper was headlined, “SC Supreme Court race: Lawmakers fishing for anti-Abbeville sentiment?” It recapped questions put to the candidates by legislators last year, especially questions dealing with a high court ruling about public education funding.

The candidates are John Few,  chief judge of the S.C. Court of Appeals, Ralph King “Tripp” Anderson III, chief judge of the six-judge S.C. Administrative Law Court, and Harris Bruce Williams, a member of the state appeals court. South Carolina is one of two states where supreme court justices are elected by the legislature.

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Three Vie for Election to South Carolina Supreme Court

The State reports that a race in the South Carolina General Assembly for a vacant seat on the state Supreme Court has turned into a battle, as three judges try to secure the 85-vote majority needed to win the seat in a Feb. 3 election. 

 It is reported that no candidate has a clear advantage at this stage as lawmakers make a difficult call to choose the right candidate for a position that will often be “the last voice in telling lawmakers how to conduct their business.” This voting process also has become a hot topic in the election of a new Chief Justice (see Gavel Grab).

 The judicial selection process is said to be largely free from the media scrutiny brought about by the advertisements and speeches in a public election. The State describes the process: Read more

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Chief Justice Selection a Hot Topic in South Carolina Legislature

Justice Beatty

Justice Beatty

As state legislatures are revving up, a Charleston Post and Courier article says the election of a new South Carolina Supreme Court chief justice is looming over the session in the Palmetto State.

The selection is tinged with issues of both race and politics in Republican-dominated legislature. Traditionally, the chief justice job goes to the court’s most senior judge. This time around, that would be Justice Donald Beatty, who is African American — only the second black man on the court since Reconstruction — and seen by some conservative legislators as ruling the wrong way on contentious issues. This time, tradition may be contested in one of the only U.S. states where legislatures elect judges.

“There’s a feeling in the Republican Caucus that we would like a judge to lead the judiciary who is more conservative, who is more concerned with making sure that the court stays within the bounds of that third branch of government and less interested in second-guessing public policy as put forth by the General Assembly,” said House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, a Republican. Read more

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Opinion: Remember the Last Court-Legislature Impasse in S.C.?

With a potential conflict between the South Carolina legislature and its Supreme Court over education funding looming larger (see Gavel Grab), it may be instructive to learn from a previous long-term clash, writes an associate editor for The State.

Cindi Ross Scoppe says that in the decade after 1973, when the legislature established a unified judicial system, the two branches were at loggerheads over rewriting courtroom procedures. A resolution was reached only in 1984 when voters passed a constitutional amendment.

Scoppe quotes retired USC law school professor James Underwood as seeing  parallels between then and now. In each, “you’ve got something that falls in the twilight zone or never-never land between legislation and court activity,” he said. “It took a kind of statesman-like negotiations between the two branches” to resolve the earlier impasse.”

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Inter-Branch Conflict Highlights S.C. Judicial Selection Method

south-carolina-flagA potential battle between the South Carolina legislature and the state Supreme Court is shaping up over the court’s position on school equity, and it could play out in the legislature’s choosing a new, tie-breaking justice for the court.

SCnow.com has a lengthy article about this intriguing conflict and possible drama, saying that two Republican legislative leaders “plan to ignore the Supreme Court’s deadline order in the two-decade-old school equity lawsuit, which could set up a constitutional crisis.”

Legislators are expected to vote to fill a Supreme Court vacancy on Feb. 3, only two days after a deadline for the legislative chambers and governor to present their proposal to remedy poor and rural schools. They are to furnish their plan to a panel whose creation was ordered by the Supreme Court.

Read more

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South Carolina Weighs Reducing Politics in Judicial Selection

South Carolina General Assembly

Last week South Carolina legislators elected more than 20 state judges. According to The State, the rare election process stirred up a recurring debate.

South Carolina and Virginia are the only two states where legislators elect state judges directly, a process that is becoming increasingly controversial. Critics say that the process is too political and violates judicial independence. Lynn Teague with the League of Woman Voters, a Justice at Stake partner, said “we don’t need one branch of government basically controlling everything about another.” Supporters, however, claim the process is better than some, citing increased politicization that may accompany other processes.

Read more

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SC Supreme Court Denies Petition to Halt Judicial Elections

The Supreme Court of South Carolina found no reason to delay circuit court Judge Edward Miller’s re-election. The legislature, which elects judges in South Carolina, was scheduled to cast the vote on Wednesday.

The State explains that Judge Miller’s qualifications were called into question by Brenda Bryant, who accused him of “abuse of power” in a case he presided over. (See Gavel Grab for background.) The court unanimously ruled that Bryant’s complaint was based “on her displeasure with Judge Miller’s rulings in her case.”

South Carolina is one of two states where the legislature elects judges. The second part of Bryant’s petition asked the Supreme Court to declare this system unconstitutional. State Representatives and Senators sit on the board that examines the qualifications of judicial candidates. The petition argued this qualifies as holding dual offices, which is prohibited in the state constitution.

Bryant told reporters she is intent on continuing her fight. “I am very disappointed in the five Supreme Court justices,” she said, “but I will not be stopping on this level. U.S. Supreme Court, here we go!”

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SC Legislator Asks ‘Improper’ Questions of Judicial Candidates

A survey by a South Carolina legislator to potential judges asking questions regarding religion, marriage equality and numerous other personal matters has been deemed inappropriate by the Judicial Merit Selection Commission.

According to The State, freshman state Rep. Jonathon Hill issued a 30-question survey to judicial candidates. The questions ranged from opinions on equal pay for women to asking if they believe in the “Supreme Being.”

“Answering these questions amounts to a promise to decide future cases in accordance with this political pledge,” University of South Carolina law school ethics expert Greg Adams said. “Some of the questions amount to a religious test to hold public office, barred by the U.S. Constitution.”

The state’s Code of Judicial Conduct also bars candidates from answering many of the questions.

“You live and learn,” Hill told the paper. “Maybe next year I’ll be in a better position to — if I put out a questionnaire — to craft it in a way that would work a little bit better.”

Judicial elections are controversial in South Carolina, where legislators elect judges.

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