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Fix SC’s Corrupt Judicial Branch

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By FITSNEWS || News broke this week that the brother of suspended S.C. Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell had given up his post on a state “judicial merit screening” committee.

The decision – announced by interim Speaker Jay Lucas – made sense.  Harrell was indicted last month on nine counts of public corruption and his case will be adjudicated by the state’s judicial branch of government (while a federal probe into State House corruption is ongoing).

It stands to reason, then, that his brother should no longer be involved in the selection of judicial candidates …

But while Lucas deserves credit for recognizing this obvious conflict, it’s important to look at the bigger picture.

The process by which judges are elected in South Carolina is inherently corrupt … and must be radically reformed.

Currently, Palmetto State lawmakers decide which candidates get to run for judicial elections via their hand-picked screening committee.  After these candidates are chosen (a process that has nothing to do with “merit”), lawmakers vote on them – which as we’ve chronicled is an even shadier undertaking.

Meanwhile the head of the judicial branch – who is also legislatively elected (albeit corruptly) – has dictatorial powers over the entire system, including the authority to determine where judges serve, what cases they hear and how they are disciplined.

This leads to all sorts of corruption.

Attorneys, too, are under the thumb of the S.C. chief justice – who selectively investigates and metes out punishment in their disciplinary cases, as well.

FITS has exposed multiple scandals in the judicial branch over the years – including manipulation of the state’s bar exam to raise passage rates and rampant corruption within the court’s attorney discipline division.

Bottom line?  Members of the S.C. General Assembly have proven incapable of ethically handling judicial appointments – while the corrupt judicial branch they’ve created has proven incapable of ethically handling our legal system.  “Merit” plays no role whatsoever in who becomes a judge – or the decisions they make after they are appointed.  Like most things in this perpetually backward state, it’s all “who you know.”

This has to change …

We understand there are lots of ideas on how to reform judicial appointment in South Carolina.  Some favor going with the federal model, some support letting voters’ choose, while others endorse hybrid models.  It’s an important discussion to have – and to get right – but this can’t wait.

For that reason, we recommend lawmakers immediately ceding control of all judicial appointments to the executive branch – namely the governor’s office – with the S.C. Senate providing advice and consent on those appointments (i.e. the federal model).  If there’s a better solution than that for the long-term, we’re all ears – but the current system must be scrapped sooner rather than later.

The integrity of an entire branch of government depends on it …

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