Another year, another shady judicial race in South Carolina …
Even in those rare instances in which South Carolina’s notoriously corrupt judicial selection process yields decent choices (as it did in this year’s race for S.C. Supreme Court), Palmetto State lawmakers cannot seem to elect judges without the process devolving into a sordid web of lies, intrigue and vote-trading.
This year’s S.C. Supreme Court race was no different …
The end result of the goat show – namely the election of chief appellate judge John Few – wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Both Few and Bruce Williams, lawmakers’ second choice, were actually solid choices in our estimation.
After putting numerous liberals on the state’s high court, “Republican” lawmakers finally had some reasonably conservative candidates to choose from. And they chose one of them …
But again, the insidious insider dealing preceding the final tally highlighted just how self-serving this process has become – and how elections for lower courts can be manipulated as part of the process.
“There needs to be a federal probe into the workings of the South Carolina General Assembly,” one lawmaker told us after witnessing the horse-trading in this year’s race.
Actually there is a probe … although the state’s top prosecutor appears to be doing everything within his power to shut it down.
Anyway, all this horse-trading – aside from being illegal – isn’t good for the state, especially when it empowers a left-leaning minority to wield disproportionate impact over the selection process (a.k.a. why liberal justices Donald Beatty and Kaye Hearn are sitting on the Supreme Court right now).
One state lawmaker – S.C. Rep. Chris Corley – filed a trio of bills back in December to do away with the legislative election of judges (while reforming eligibility for judicial candidates). Corley’s bills – H. 4402, H. 4404 and H. 4406 – call for the popular election of judges in the Palmetto State from the family court system all the way up to the Supreme Court.
His legislation would also forbid judgeships from being granted to the “spouse, child, parent, sibling, mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law” of a state lawmaker. Heck, Corley’s bill even includes language barring the appoint of a lawmaker’s live-in girlfriend (or boyfriend).
A supporter of Corley’s efforts told us he is trying to limit the ability of a liberal minority to impact judicial races.
“Georgia does it by election,” they said, adding that only Democratic enclaves got liberal judges. “And they have zero chance of ever getting on a statewide bench.”
Another option is to grant future South Carolina governors the right to appoint judges – with either the State Senate (or the entire S.C. General Assembly) providing advice and consent via a two-thirds affirmative vote. Of course several of these “executive appointment” plans still call for the involvement of the Judicial Merit Selection Commission (JMSC) – a legislatively controlled panel that ostensibly “screens” judges and determines which ones are qualified to serve on the bench.
“That’s where the REAL problem lies – and where the constitutional affront is most flagrant,” a source familiar with the commission’s inner workings told us.
We agree … especially seeing as how capable members of this board have been removed by powerful lawmakers as part of their never-ending effort to settle scores.
Our view? The JMSC should be completely eliminated, and lawmakers should turn over appointment authority for all judges to the governor’s office. Basically, legislators should have no impact whatsoever on the selection process – although we believe they do have a right to confirm a selection by an affirmative two-thirds vote of both chambers.
We’re told some sort of “executive appointment” bill is being pushed by S.C. Senator Katrina Shealy – who pulled no punches in her assessment of this year’s judicial intriguing.
Last year, state lawmakers seemed to be focused on fixing the Palmetto State’s corrupt judicial system – in fact they had a reform candidate in mind in the hopes of pulling off a top-to-bottom overhaul of the entire judicial branch. Those plans have since collapsed.
Unless they get serious about fixing this badly broken process, we will continue to see similar outcomes in the future.
That may not have resulted in a bad judge this go-round, but it has on many occasions in the past … and will on many occasions in the to come if lawmakers don’t enact broad based reform.