South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson is continuing his campaign to reform the way judges are selected in the Palmetto State – hoping to break up a legislative stranglehold which has corrupted the current system and eroded the public’s faith in the integrity of our courts.
South Carolina is one of only two states in the nation in which lawmakers pick judges – a system which has promoted sweetheart plea deals, anemic sentences, ridiculous bonds, the perpetual abuse of victims and “mandatory minimum” sentences that wound up being not-so-mandatory.
The result of all this? Widespread institutional corruption, material erosions of public safety. And the transformation of an ostensibly independent judiciary into a political annex of the legislature.
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As previously noted, changing this system permanently would require an amendment to the constitution … which most agree is unlikely to happen in the coming legislative session.
In the meantime, Wilson has proposed a series of short-term reforms to the much-maligned Judicial Merit Selection Commission (SCJMSC). As noted in our prior coverage, candidates seeking a judgeship must first submit their resumes to the 10-member SCJMSC – which is currently controlled by powerful lawyer-legislators. The S.C. Senate appoints five commission members; the House picks the other five. At the moment, six of the ten members of this panel are currently attorneys serving in the S.C. General Assembly.
The ability of lawyer-legislators to manipulate which candidates appear – and don’t appear – on the ballot for their colleagues to vote on removes a critical check from the system of checks and balances we rely upon in our representative form of government.
“I want the judicial branch to have an equal check on the power that I have,” Wilson said. “I want them to have an equal check on the power of the legislature, but we don’t have an equal check on the legislature – and we certainly don’t have an equal check on the judiciary.”
According to an advisory from his office, Wilson is hosting a judicial reform panel discussion in Columbia, S.C. next week – the second panel gathering he has convened to raise awareness of this issue. The panel discussion will be held this coming Monday (August 14, 2023) from 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. EDT at First Baptist Church (1301 Washington Street) in downtown Columbia.
Wilson is part of a growing movement in support of judicial reform in South Carolina. Palmetto State solicitors Kevin Brackett, David Pascoe and Scarlett Wilson have all been pushing for change, as have law enforcement leaders including sheriffs Kevin Tolson of York County and Leon Lott of Richland County. Also multiple state lawmakers – including representatives Joe White of Newberry, Heather Bauer of Columbia and Gilda Cobb-Hunter of Orangeburg – have been pushing for reform.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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