There was an editorial in The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier last Thursday lamenting the fact that no black judges were elected by the S.C. General Assembly this year – which, according to the paper, is further evidence of lawmakers’ refusal to support qualified black candidates.
According to the Post and Courier, lawmakers are not “trying to diversity the bench, in terms of race or gender or much of anything else.”
That is a more obtuse variation of the criticism leveled at lawmakers two years ago by state representative John King – who at least had the courtesy to refrain from mincing words in referring to his white colleagues as racists.
“Racism still lives here!” King told reporter John Monk of The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper in 2019 after S.C. circuit court judge Alison Lee was defeated in her bid for a seat on the state’s appeals court.
Why did Lee lose? It wasn’t because of her race, it was because of her habitual failure to keep violent criminals behind bars … a failure which has persisted in the intervening years. This failure is also why South Carolina’s two U.S. senators – one of whom is black – nixed her bid for a federal judgeship.
Letting violent criminals go free is also why S.C. circuit court judge DeAndrea Benjamin lost her bid for a seat on the appeals court this year – although Benjamin sought to blame her defeat on “partisan” politics.
Unfortunately, addressing the problem of unwarranted judicial leniency – and the damage it does to our communities – is not on the Post and Courier’s radar. To the paper’s editorial board, everything is about race – or more specifically, about a definition of “social justice” which too often ignores the perspective of victims of violent crime.
“The only way to change the status quo is to have someone who says, when I have two equally qualified candidates, I’m going to pick the black one, or the woman, or the one who grew up in poverty, or the one who grew up on a farm, or the one who chose law as a second career,” the editorial argued.
That sounds an awful lot like an endorsement of discrimination … doesn’t it?
Indeed … to say nothing of an actionable discrimination claim by the candidate who was not selected (these are public positions, after all).
Curiously, though, the Post and Courier editorial neglected to mention that an eminently qualified black judicial candidate who was defeated earlier this month lost her race due in no small part to … well, black votes.
Her election was held out as an example of white institutional racism … but the paper apparently failed to review the roll call vote associated with her candidacy.
Tameaka Legette – a prosecutor in the S.C. fourteenth judicial circuit – has a proven track record prosecuting violent criminals and protecting victims and their communities. As one of the leaders of the fourteenth circuit’s “career criminals unit,” Legette has excelled at bringing defendants to trial quickly – and getting convictions in 95 percent of her cases.
“In addition to one of the circuit’s highest conviction rates, Legette’s staff boasted the quickest time to court and the fewest number of people awaiting trial in the detention center – key performance indicators for the solicitor’s office,” a recent article in The Walterboro Press and Standard noted. “She also was instrumental in developing a domestic violence court in Hampton county before this was the norm throughout the state.”
Two years ago, Legette received the John R. Justice award from the U.S. attorney’s office in South Carolina for her “dedication and commitment to making her community a safer place.”
Legette is exactly the sort of person South Carolina needs on the bench – irrespective of her color. Unfortunately, nineteen black lawmakers voted against her – turning what would have been a resounding 91-65 victory into an 84-72 defeat.
(Click to view)
(Via: S.C. Fourteenth Solicitor’s Office)
White lawmakers bristled at the Post and Courier’s assertion that Legette (above) lost owing to their failure to embrace diversity. They further argued that if more conservative (or even moderate) black candidates were put up for legislative election, they would support them – specifically referencing U.S. supreme court justice Clarence Thomas and former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.
“If a conservative like Clarence Thomas or a moderate like Condi Rice were put forward, we would break out in a trot to get them elected,” one white lawmaker told us. “It has nothing to do with color and everything to do with the candidate.”
The Post and Courier did get one thing right in its editorial, though …
“The huge flaw in the way South Carolina selects judges is that it’s controlled entirely by the Legislature, with no input from the third co-equal branch of government, the governor,” the paper wrote.
That is a fact. Regular readers will recall this news outlet’s founding editor Will Folks has editorialized for years in favor of scrapping this corrupt system and embracing the federal method of judicial appointment – in which governors pick judges with the advice and consent of the S.C. Senate.
The Post’s proposed remedies – including letting the governor appoint the members of a statewide panel that screens judges or allowing the governor to choose from a menu of candidates provided by lawmakers – would retain significant legislative control over the process.
In other words, the paper is not quite as committed to fixing this broken system as it would appear.
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