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SC Supreme Court Race: Why Diane Goodstein Lost




Lowcountry, S.C. circuit court judge Diane Goodstein withdrew her name from consideration as a Supreme Court candidate shortly before members of the S.C. General Assembly voted on judicial posts last week.

And yes, that news broke exclusively here on FITSNews.

Goodstein’s decision left another circuit court judge – George C. “Buck” James of Sumter, S.C. – as the last candidate standing for this seat, which he won by acclimation.

Neither James nor Goodstein were among the early frontrunners for this seat.  But as the race approached its last lap, it was clear they were the two candidates in the lead.

How did James win?  That’s a good question …

We suspected Goodstein would enjoy monolithic support from the more socially-liberal Lowcountry regions of the Palmetto State.  We also suspected she would pick up some support in the socially-conservative Upstate region of South Carolina given her commendable ruling in a recent religious liberty case.  Goodstein sided with a breakaway conservative Episcopalian diocese in that dispute – which factored prominently in one of the down-ballot judicial races this year.

Also, the lone Upstate candidate in this race – circuit court judge Keith Kelly – received virtually no support (even in his own backyard).

In light of the religious liberty case, those social conservative votes should have been Goodstein’s for the taking.

Finally, given the S.C. General Assembly’s recent penchant for elevating activist, liberal judges to the bench – we figured Goodstein would fare far better among lawmakers than James, who is said to be a strict constructionist as well as more conservative in his overarching ideology.

So what happened?  Several things …

First, endorsements mattered in this race – and Goodstein had all of the wrong ones.

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At the top of this list is former S.C. chief justice Jean Toal – who turned the state’s judicial branch into her own personal dictatorship over the last sixteen years.  Toal’s aggressive lobbying on behalf of Goodstein rubbed many lawmakers – including those who previously supported Toal – the wrong way.

Goodstein also saw her stock drop when she was endorsed by S.C. first circuit solicitor David Pascoe.

Don’t get us wrong: Pascoe’s political stock is rising – and fast – as he doggedly pursues an investigation into public corruption at the S.C. State House.  But whoever advised the man currently striking fear into the hearts of every lawmaker to appear under the capital dome to lobby those same legislators on behalf of Goodstein’s candidacy clearly needs to have their head examined.

The same can be said for the person who thought it wise for Goodstein’s husband – Arnold Goodstein – to appear on a fundraising invitation for uber-liberal legislative leader Hugh Leatherman.

That was an amateur hour mistake.

As if these issues weren’t sufficient to doom her candidacy, Goodstein was also reportedly working against the headwinds of another rumored backroom deal.  According to our sources, several conservative GOP lawmakers struck a bargain with their “moderate” counterparts last year – agreeing to allow liberal former Democratic lawmaker Donald Beatty to become the court’s next chief justice in exchange for getting a “conservative” on the bench this go-round.

“That’s why the early frontrunners never made it out of screening,” one ranking Republican in the S.C. House told us, referring to the early favorites in this race.  “It’s also why (Goodstein’s) race was over before it began.”

As we’ve said all along, whatever the ideology of the judicial candidates – state lawmakers need to get out of the business of electing judges.  From the selection of candidates by a legislatively-controlled committee to the actual voting by lawmakers themselves, the entire process is rigged and needs to be replaced.

We believe governors in South Carolina should be empowered with the authority to nominate judges – from magistrates all the way up to Supreme Court justices.  And while we support these nominations being contingent upon the advice and consent of the legislative branch (either the Senate or the entire S.C. General Assembly, doesn’t matter to us), we don’t think lawmakers should have any other role in the process.

In lieu of the gubernatorial appointment model, we would also be fine with judges and justices being elected by popular vote.

As we’ve repeatedly said, anything would be better than the current system – which erodes judicial independence and fosters nepotism and a host of other corrupt practices.

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