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#SealMageddon: Origins, Escalation

The origins of South Carolina’s latest (and greatest?) display of government incompetence …

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Yesterday, this news site broke open a scandal we’re christening #SealMageddon …

For those of you who missed our exclusive report, it boils down to this: For an undetermined period of time (rumored to be several years), South Carolina’s Secretary of State Mark Hammond allegedly failed to perform his constitutional duty of affixing the “Great Seal” of the state onto acts and resolutions passed by the S.C. General Assembly.

This ministerial task – in which the state seal is physically “stamped” onto original acts and resolutions passed by the legislature – has fallen to the Secretary of State for as long as anyone in state government can remember.

Does the seal matter?

Yes …

According to Article III, Section 18 of South Carolina’s constitution (.pdf), “No Bill or Joint Resolution shall have the force of law until it shall have been read three times and on three several days in each house, has had the Great Seal of the State affixed to it, and has been signed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.”

(Emphasis added).

In other words, “no seal, no law.”

So … how did we get here?

Good question …

Multiple state legislators were briefed on the situation late Thursday after reporter Meg Kinnard of The Associated Press picked up this story and ran with it.

Apparently Kinnard’s report – and our story preceding it – prompted mass panic within the legislative branch.

According to these lawmakers – who were briefed on the matter by one of their colleagues – #SealMaggedon has been a closely guarded secret in the state capital for the past three months.  They told us the problem was discovered three months ago when a defendant representing themselves (i.e. pro se) in a criminal case decided to visit the S.C. Department of Archives and History (SCDAH).

The defendant apparently wanted to view the actual law they were being charged with in an effort to determine whether it had been properly filed.

Upon viewing the document, the defendant noticed the absence of the state seal and quickly made the constitutional connection.   Shortly thereafter, they filed a motion to have the charges against them dismissed on the grounds that the law they were accused of violating wasn’t constitutionally valid.

See where this is going?

(Via: FITSNews.com)

Not long thereafter, a local solicitor – alarmed by the potential implications of the situation – contacted legislators in an effort to determine why one of their laws had been filed without a seal affixed to it.

That’s when the true dimensions of #SealMaggedon came into focus, we’re told.

Armed with the solicitor’s concerns, top legislative staffers (and their bosses) quickly launched a discreet inquiry – at which point they realized Hammond’s office had failed to affix the seal to thousands of acts and resolutions dating back for a period of up to ten years.  This reportedly led to a vigorous debate between legislative and executive branch officials over whether Hammond was in fact responsible for performing this constitutional duty.

For several weeks this summer, we’re told Hammond refused to accept responsibility for the situation – but ultimately acquiesced and acknowledged he had been derelict in his duty.  At this point, an effort was undertaken to “fix” the problem – although it’s not immediately clear how fruitful that fix has been.

Or whether retroactively applying the seal will create even bigger constitutional issues …

We don’t yet have precise dates or an exact number of potentially impacted acts and resolutions, but this news site submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Secretary of State’s office yesterday seeking this information.

According to our sources, the Secretary of State is currently in possession of all acts and resolutions dating from 2005 to the present.  Acts and resolutions from previous years are stored at SCDAH.  A review of these acts and resolutions is currently being undertaken by state representative Joshua Putnam, who is running against Hammond in next spring’s GOP primary election for Secretary of State.

“There are several acts from his tenure here without the seal,” Putnam told us, adding that he was in the process of reviewing all of the documents currently in possession of SCDAH.

Hammond was elected in 2002 and took office in January of 2003.  He is supposed to turn over all acts and resolutions to SCDAH after a period of five years, but apparently he hasn’t been doing that job either.

What happens next?

Good question …

Lawmakers told us they have been presented with a solution to the problem – one that they hope to pass into law as soon as they reconvene in January.

As soon as we get additional information on that “solution,” we’ll pass it along to our readers …

UPDATE: This is getting serious … Putnam has discovered over 100 acts or resolutions which did not receive the seal from Hammond’s first two years in office.

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