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SC Lawmakers Pose “Judge Swap”




We knew it wouldn’t be long before the deal-making got underway in this year’s race for the S.C. Supreme Court – we just didn’t know the deal might be something we could live with.

The operative term being might be …

As we’ve noted in our coverage of the current race, the consensus is that of the three candidates John Few – chief judge of the S.C. court of appeals – is the most likely to confine his opinions within the scope of the law.  Which we like.  Does that mean Few is the most “conservative” judge, though?

Not necessarily …

As we noted in this article from April of 2009, Bruce Williams – another appeals court judge who is running for the seat – was long-regarded by lawmakers as more conservative than Few.

And still is, according to many legislators …

In fact, our 2009 column referred to Few as one of several “less-than-conservative” options compared to Williams, although Few appears to have tacked considerably to the right in recent years … and is now generally regarded as a conservative judge (in addition to being a strict constructionist).

So … what should lawmakers do?

One GOP Senator – Katrina Shealy – has an intriguing idea, one based on the fact that there will be another Supreme Court race next year.

“If we want two conservative judges – and I think we Republicans are in a position where we absolutely have to appoint two conservative judges – we should elect Williams this year and then let Few run next year,” she said.

Shealy’s logic is that Williams’ term on the appellate court is nearly up – whereas Few’s term still has several years remaining.

“Few ought to be running next year,” she said.

Shealy told us several House members had independently discussed precisely such a plan – and that legislative leaders in both chambers were “warming” to the notion.  Few’s supporters – eager not to lose momentum – conceded Williams would be a “good conservative judge,” but countered that their candidate had more early commitments.

“Why should Judge Few have to wait a year if he is winning?” one asked.

Hmmm …

“This will be Williams only opportunity,” one of the judge’s supporters told us.  “Williams been on bench longer – Few should withdraw and run next time.”

After electing (and reelecting) multiple liberal justices to the Supreme Court in recent years, lawmakers are under intense pressure to start shifting the ideological balance of the court further to the right – especially in the aftermath of a contentious school funding lawsuit in which the court overstepped its authority.

Will they do so?  Twice?

Of interest?  Few and Williams aren’t the only judges in the mix this year.  A legislatively-dominated screening committee also approved Ralph King “Tripp” Anderson – the chief judge of the S.C. administrative law court – as a candidate.  Anderson’s bid for the bench is being aggressively promoted by liberal S.C. Senate President Hugh Leatherman – which as far as we’re concerned rules him out of consideration.

As we’ve said for years, the fact lawmakers are involved in this process to begin with is wrong.  Judges should be appointed by the executive branch with the advise and consent of the legislature – or popularly elected.

Either way is fine with us … as long as lawmakers extricate themselves from the process.