State House

South Carolina Senate Finally Takes Up Judicial Reform

Too little? Too late?

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Four months ago, South Carolina senator Dick Harpootlian challenged the chairman of the S.C. Senate judiciary committee – Luke Rankin – to convene a subcommittee for the purpose of hearing bills aimed at reforming the Palmetto State’s badly broken judicial branch.

Rankin finally got around to it on Wednesday, scheduling a hearing on sixteen different judicial selection reform proposals. According to an agenda posted on the judiciary committee’s website, the hearing has been scheduled for next Tuesday (February 6, 2024) at 3:00 p.m. EST in room 105 of the Gressette Senate office building.

Five senators – Scott Talley, Gerald Malloy, Chip Campsen, Ronnie Sabb and Sandy Senn – comprise the subcommittee. Talley is its chairman.

Harpootlian jumped on board the judicial reform bandwagon in a big way last August, and has been pressuring Rankin to move on the issue ever since.

What took him so long? And will his committee advance anything resembling meaningful reform?

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For those of you unfamiliar with South Carolina’s badly broken judicial selection model, the Palmetto State 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 …

While the Senate was finally getting moving on the issue, a House panel criticized for defending the failed status quo heard powerful testimony this week from reformers. Among those appearing before this ad hoc committee? Longtime victims’ rights advocate Laura Hudson – who has been working to reform this broken system for years.

Hudson was joined by Molly Vick, whose advocacy following the injustice she endured is credited by many as being the reason one of the Palmetto State’s worst judges was found unqualified for another term on the bench.

(Click to View)

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The recent sense of urgency on judicial reform has been sparked by filibuster threats from conservative lawmakers in the S.C. Senate – notably senator Wes Climer of Rock Hill. Back in October, Climer vowed to block judicial elections unless and until lawmakers fixed the current corrupt system.

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

Last week, Climer made good on that promise – forcing House members to put off judicial elections which were originally scheduled to be held next week.

With all this momentum for reform, it’s important lawmakers do not squander their opportunity to achieve real, lasting change. What does that sort of change look like, though?

Ten months ago, I laid out what I believe to be the ideal solution – a hybrid model in which judges would be nominated by the governor with the advice and consent of the legislature. From there, they would be subjected to recall and retention elections if they wanted to keep their seats.

So far, lawmakers and executive branch leaders pushing reform haven’t come anywhere close to offering such a sweeping overhaul … but count on this media outlet to continue holding them accountable until they do.

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THE AGENDA …

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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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4 comments

Not Fit To Represent Us January 31, 2024 at 9:06 pm

Not sure about Talley, but those other four on the subcommittee with him are scum sucking lowlife, who despise The Constitution they swore to uphold. Hopefully they stay busy on the subcommittee and do no harm elsewhere, especially with regard to 2A.

Reply
jbl1a February 1, 2024 at 7:35 am

Lawyer/legislators don’t want to fix the system. It works too well for them…..Corrupt to the core

Reply
JustSomeGuy Top fan February 1, 2024 at 10:21 am

Harpootlian may be on board now, but didn’t he makes some awkward comments last March about how Murdaugh’s conviction showed that there was no problem with the current system?

Reply
SubZeroIQ February 1, 2024 at 7:11 pm

FITS, I can’t wait till Laura Hudson stops paying you as Eric Bland did; then you will turn on her as you did on Eric Bland and it shall, God willing, be delicious.
I TOTALLY lost confidence in Laura Hudson when she FALSELY claimed that South Carolina, with its undeniably over-crowded prisons, is “busily emptying our prisons.”
And I continue to see through your hypocrisy as you continue to play dumb about who really profits from their seats on the Judicial Merit Selection Commission AND the “citizens” screening committees: YOUR buddy-benefactor lobster-guzzling Pete Strom and the dictator of Kershaw William Tetterton.
Your solution is far from “ideal.” In a uni-party state, a term-limited Republican governor will NEVER nominate minority judges.
Also, the judges themselves are PERFECTLY HAPPY to never have to raise or spend money even for retention elections.
So, think again; and give us some credit for knowing what you are up to.

Reply

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