LAWMAKERS LEERY OF JUDICIAL ACTIVISM …
As we recently noted, there are three candidates seeking a spot on the S.C. Supreme Court this year. And because these candidates are vetted – and then voted on – by the notoriously corrupt S.C. General Assembly, politics has already reared its ugly head in the selection process.
So much for all that talk of “judicial reform,” right?
Anyway, the three candidates are Ralph King “Tripp” Anderson (chief judge of the state’s administrative law court), John Few (chief judge of the S.C. court of appeals) and Bruce Williams (an appeals court judge).
Lawmakers tell us Few enjoys the early advantage based on geographical and ideological considerations (he’s from the vote-rich Upstate region of South Carolina and he’s generally regarded as the most conservative of the three nominees).
Wait … don’t “Republican” lawmakers in the Palmetto State typically install liberal judges to the Supreme Court?
So wouldn’t that be a disadvantage for Few?
Yes … but not this year. Voters have had enough of “conservative” lawmakers electing (or promoting) liberal judges – and Few’s race is being viewed as the first in a long line of litmus tests.
But there’s another reason lawmakers are reportedly gravitating toward Few – a Greenwood, S.C. native. It turns out he was the only candidate who provided an answer to a very important question …
During the legislative screening process that produced the three finalists for this post, each would-be Supreme was asked to provide their thoughts on the controversial “minimally adequate” ruling handed down by the S.C. Supreme Court in the fall of 2014.
This ruling – which precipitated something of a constitutional crisis in South Carolina – found that the state was not meeting its alleged obligation to provide a “minimally adequate” education to certain students at government-run schools. It further directed the S.C. General Assembly to address this failure with specific actions – by a specific deadline.
Not surprisingly … lawmakers categorically failed to do that.
The problem? The court wasn’t confining itself to the interpretation of the law. It created and defined the “minimally adequate” standard itself – and then saw fit to impose fresh obligations related to this new standard on the legislative branch. All this despite the state’s constitution granting the S.C. General Assembly exclusive authority over “the maintenance and support of a system of free public schools” in the state.
Yeah … that’s a textbook example of judicial overreach.
Don’t get us wrong: There’s much we like about the “minimally adequate” ruling. For starters, the liberal court actually affirmed the glaringly obvious conclusion that “spending fails to provide students with the opportunity to obtain a minimally adequate education.”
“Rather, the evidence demonstrates that there is a clear disconnect between spending and results,” the ruling noted.
Amen to that … we’ve been screaming that for years.
And let’s be honest: It goes without saying South Carolina’s government-run schools are not “minimally adequate.” They are totally inadequate – despite receiving billions upon billions of dollars in new money over the past few decades.
Furthermore, when the S.C. General Assembly finally got around to responding to the “minimally adequate” ruling (last month) – it offered up an orgy of new government spending and programs. In other words, “Republican” lawmakers offered up more of all the things that led to the “totally inadequate” situation in the first place.
Still … none of that gives the Supreme Court the right to usurp the constitutional authority of another branch of government.
Anyway, when Anderson, Few and Williams were asked about this ruling during the screening process – only Few spoke up in opposition to it. The other two candidates – Anderson and Williams – said nothing. In fact, sources tell us they remained silent because they both support the ruling – and were advised by their strategists to keep quiet about it so as not to anger lawmakers.
Needless to say, that silence is assuming a deafening volume as the S.C. General Assembly prepares to begin its 2016 legislative session next week. In fact we’re told Anderson and Williams are scrambling to provide “alternative explanations” in conversations with lawmakers regarding the controversial ruling.
We haven’t put too much thought into this race at this point … and are nowhere near the point of offering any sort of endorsement to any of the three candidates. Having said that, the fact Few was the only one of the three judges willing to answer the question – and the fact he answered it correctly – strikes us as commendable.
A judge’s ideological leanings matter … but so does his or her philosophy.