S.C. Chief Justice Jean Toal has privately told numerous confidantes she will step down when her current term expires in 2014. Assuming the former liberal activist makes good on those assurances, it would mean the abandonment of an alleged quid pro quo aimed at extending her tenure at the helm of the Palmetto State’s highest court.
Such a decision would have far-reaching implications – extending far beyond the composition of the court.
In South Carolina all judges – including Supreme Court justices – are elected by the S.C. General Assembly. In fact a legislatively controlled commission selects the slate of candidates – effectively giving one branch of government total control over the other. Not surprisingly this process – like everything else in state government – is infinitely corrupt.
Judges should be appointed by the state’s chief executive – period. And they should be allowed to serve as long as they want … barring some demonstrated incapacitation. Otherwise we end up with an endless cycle of favor-trading …
While there is currently no mandatory retirement age for judges, those who stay on the bench past the age of seventy-two forfeit their right to participate in the state’s retirement system. Toal is 69 years old – meaning under the current system she would have to give up her seat at the end of 2015. However legislation being pushed by one of her longtime allies – S.C. Sen. Gerald Malloy (D-Hartsville) – would remove this age limit.
According to our sources, Malloy’s bill is (or rather was) part of a deal aimed at getting Toal to sit on a hugely controversial lawsuit involving exemptions to the state’s sales tax code. Currently South Carolina exempts around $2.7 billion in sales tax revenue annually – compared to the $2.2 billion it collects. Some of these exemptions benefit all South Carolinians (and promote our state’s competitiveness) however many are narrowly tailored to specific special interests and work against our state’s economic well-being.
Oh … and one goes to purchase the loyalty of the legacy press.
Toal has previously opposed such exemptions – but she never had a majority of the Supreme Court on her side. Now that she does, lawmakers were fearful she would rule all of these exemptions out of order, throwing the state’s tax code into disarray.
But do Toal supporters have the juice they once did in the legislature? No. In fact just last week the chief justice was dealt a humiliating defeat by lawmakers – who narrowly rejected her hand-picked selection for an at-large family court seat. In fact this defeat may have been the proverbial “writing on the wall” for the longtime liberal.
Who would replace Toal? Among the leading contenders is S.C. Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell – a Charleston attorney who spent nearly a dozen years as president of the State Senate from 2001-2012.
“McConnell wants to end his career as chief justice,” one source told us.
Will he get that chance? We may find out sooner rather than later …