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SC Supreme Court Rules On Succession Drama




The S.C. Supreme Court has issued a ruling upholding the will of the voters related to a 2012 referendum changing the way governors and lieutenant governors in the Palmetto State are elected.

By a 4-0 vote, the justices affirmed that this 2012 constitutional change is valid – meaning future statewide elections will feature gubernatorial and lieutenant gubernatorial candidates running on the same ticket.

Of more immediate significance, the court’s ruling clarifies what was shaping up to be a major constitutional crisis involving the language of the amendment and its impact on the proper succession of the executive branch of government.

At issue?  How the state’s office of lieutenant governor should be filled in the event its current occupant – Henry McMaster – ascends to the governor’s office following the likely confirmation of current S.C. governor Nikki Haley as the next American ambassador to the United Nations.

As it stands now, the lieutenant governor’s office would be filled automatically by the president of the State Senate (whoever that happens to be the time) – but some are arguing that the thick-drawled future governor has the right to appoint his successor.  That’s because the 2012 amendment approved by voters – which had an effective date of November 2018 – was somehow entered into the record book as being effective in May of 2014.

The court’s ruling struck that error down.

“Our ruling in this matter establishes the effective date of these amendments regardless of what is published in the Code of Laws,” the justices ruled.

Had the 2014 date been upheld as valid, it would have given McMaster the right to name his successor as lieutenant governor.  Not only that, it would have meant that a previous executive succession that took place in June 2014 was unconstitutional.

Here’s the key passage from the ruling …

We therefore declare that Articles III and IV of the South Carolina Constitution have been amended by, and as set forth in, Acts 289 and 214, and that the text of those Acts, along with the text of the ballot presented to and approved by the voters in the 2012 general election, states the amendments shall become effective “[b]eginning with the general election of 2018” and “upon the joint election” of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor.

The court instructed the S.C. Legislative Council – which is the agency responsible for codifying state laws – “to take action to correct the effective dates as published in the Code of Laws of South Carolina.”

Here’s the ruling …

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The court’s decision was a major victory for S.C. Senator Tom Davis – who fought legislative leaders to ensure it was heard.

“I was disappointed and concerned when legislative leaders in the House and the Senate asked the court to dismiss my petition, but in the end the right thing happened: the court heard my petition and then ordered corrections to the constitution so that it conforms with what the people approved,” Davis said.  “The Supreme Court is to be commended for acting both swiftly and correctly in this matter before the political dominoes start to fall.”

We concur …

(Banner via iStock)