State House

South Carolina Senator Making Good On Promise To Block Judicial Elections

“No reform, no votes …”

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Back in October, this media outlet reported on a South Carolina senator who vowed to block judicial elections in the Palmetto State unless lawmakers reformed the notoriously corrupt way in which they screen and select judges.

For those of you unfamiliar with this badly broken model, South Carolina is one of only two states in America in which lawmakers picks judges – a process led by a shady screening committee dominated by a handful of powerful lawyer-legislators.

These political attorneys routinely reap the rewards of their influence over this process – receiving preferential treatment on behalf of their clients.

The Palmetto State’s inherently unfair system has enabled institutional corruption, shredded the rights of victims, empowered violent criminals and materially eroded public safety. It has also turned the judiciary into little more than a political annex of the legislature – a problem which is getting worse, not better.

Have lawmakers delivered on their promise to fix this corruption? No. In fact, this year has been among the worst on record. In addition to engaging in more of the same corrupt insider dealmaking, legislative leaders are currently working overtime to shut down the reform movement by engaging in an institutional whitewash of the current system.

Oh, and silencing anyone who opposes them …

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Thankfully, S.C. senator Wes Climer of Rock Hill is making good on his promise to block judicial elections absent real reform, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Specifically, he is blocking a vote on judges – while generating significant support for an alternative measure that would address a vacancy on the state’s highest court without permitting other races to move forward.

South Carolina lawmakers were anticipating holding a joint session of the S.C. General Assembly on Wednesday, February 7, 2023, for the purpose of electing new judges. In fact, House members sent a concurrent resolution to the Senate this week seeking to set the date for this joint session.

Typically, the adoption of such a resolution is a mere formality – however Climer and two of his colleagues are objecting to the Senate considering the House resolution. In other words, they are blocking it from receiving a hearing. Not only that, Climer has submitted an alternative resolution – S. 1000 – which would permit lawmakers to hold a joint session for the sole purpose of elevating supreme court justice John W. Kittredge to the soon-to-be-vacant chief justice’s position.

No other judicial elections would be permitted.

(Click to View)

Scenes during the first day of session in Columbia, S.C. on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024. (Travis Bell/STATEHOUSE CAROLINA)

As I reported last fall, Climer made no bones about this plans to filibuster judicial races.

“We can’t have judicial elections again without reform,” he told me at the time.

Climer also said at the time he had spoken with several senators eager to back his play. Apparently those conversations were productive, as twenty-three fellow senators co-sponsored his alternative resolution to fill the chief justice slot but not vote on any other judgeships.

Several ranking GOP leaders joined him, as did Democrat Dick Harpootlian – another voice for judicial selection reform in the Senate.

Earlier this month, Harpootlian referred to the current judicial selection process as “an abomination.”

As I’ve previously noted, filibusters on hot-button issues – especially during election years – can be incredibly effective. For example, state senator Tom Davis used a filibuster to block a gas tax hike during the 2016 legislative session. Unfortunately, “Republican” lawmakers sat Davis down the following year – mustering just enough votes to end his filibuster in a non-election session.

For those of you keeping score at home, it takes a hard twenty-four votes to shut down a filibuster on a bill’s second reading though the chamber. On its third reading, three-fifths of all senators present and voting must vote to sit a senator down (i.e. end the filibuster). 

Props to senator Climer for standing firm on his promise … and shame on the uniparty lawmakers who have spent the last several months perpetuating the failed status quo instead of working to reform it.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Travis Bell Photography)

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 and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven (soon to be eight) children.

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