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SC Supreme Court Race: Early Favorites




Prepare to be shocked, but the “Republican-controlled” S.C. General Assembly is poised to elect yet another Democrat to the S.C. Supreme Court in 2017.

Having previously voted to put former Democratic lawmaker Donald Beatty and liberal circuit court judge Kaye Hearn on the bench, “Republican” lawmakers are now eyeing a pair of left-leaning plaintiffs’ attorneys to fill the seat being vacated by chief justice Costa Pleicones.

As trial lawyers from across the Palmetto State prepare to gather on Hilton Head Island for the annual S.C. Association for Justice (SCAJ) conference, sources familiar with the upcoming race tell us Columbia, S.C. attorneys John Nichols and Matthew Richardson are the early frontrunners – although Ralph King “Tripp” Anderson, the chief judge of South Carolina’s administrative law court, is also in the mix.

Anderson ran for the bench earlier this year – losing out to John Few.  Many lawmakers believe that gives him the inside track to win this year’s race, although it remains to be seen what deals will be cut in this infinitely corrupt process.

King’s most recent candidacy for the Supreme Court was backed by S.C. Senate president Hugh Leatherman – and his decision to bail on the race marked a rare defeat for the powerful legislative leader.

Both Nichols and Richardson have deep political connections – most of them rooted in the far left flank of the state’s increasingly leftward-leaning ideological spectrum.

Nichols was recently brought in by the S.C. House ethics committee to oversee its “investigations” against sitting lawmakers.  Richardson?  He ran for attorney general against eventual winner Alan Wilson in 2010 – although at this point a lot of people probably wish they had that vote to do over.

Numerous other candidates have filed for the office – including S.C. circuit court judges Keith Kelly, Diane Goodstein, George C. James and Carmen Mullen.

Of those four candidates, Kelly and Goodstein both have extensive legislative connections.  Kelly was a liberal “Republican” lawmaker from 2006-10, while Goodstein’s husband – Arnold S. Goodstein – was a member of the General Assembly as well as a former S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT) commissioner.

Lawmakers tell us Kelly could up drawing some support from the liberal wing of the GOP.  Goodstein’s bid is not expected to pick up much traction at all.

Screening for the seven candidates is scheduled to begin in November – and approved candidates will be voted on by lawmakers in April.

As we’ve repeatedly documented, the screening and election of judges by the S.C. General Assembly is nothing but political horse trading.  It’s been that way for years.

“Merit” plays no role whatsoever in who becomes a judge – or the decisions they make once they are appointed.  Like most things in this perpetually backward state, it’s all “who you know.”

This website has consistently argued for a more direct line of accountability.  Specifically, we’ve recommended that lawmakers cede control of all judicial appointments to the executive branch – with the S.C. Senate providing advice and consent on those appointments (i.e. the federal model).

We’re also open to judges being elected directly.

One way or the other, the current system must be changed as it reeks of dirty dealing and self-interest by powerful legislative leaders and lawyer-legislators who turn around and try cases in front of the judges they appoint.