SC Politics

GOP Primary: Judicial Reform Wins In A Landslide

“The current method is rife with opaqueness, corruption and unfairness …”

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This media outlet has repeatedly drawn attention in recent years to South Carolina’s badly broken judicial branch of government – and the need to reform, among other things, the way its judges are selected. The current method is rife with opaqueness, corruption and unfairness – yielding all manner of adverse and inherently unjust outcomes for the people who rely on it for justice.

For a long time, fixing this system was a lonely fight …

Lately, though, it has been incredibly gratifying to see numerous law enforcement, prosecutorial and legislative leaders stand up and be counted on this issue. It’s also been encouraging to watch our colleagues in the mainstream media begin to cover systemic injustices more aggressively – and to editorialize more effusively in support of changing our state’s broken system.

Most of all, it’s been amazing to watch victims find their voices … and become advocates for real change.

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Thanks to these ongoing efforts, this issue has moved to the forefront of debate in the S.C. General Assembly – the entity ultimately responsible for the judicial branch and its outcomes. 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 at the expense of judicial integrity.

This 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

And while legislative reform efforts leave a lot to be desired, our state’s policymakers are nonetheless taking the matter seriously – just as we have taken (and will continue to take) abuses of the system seriously.

Who else is taking this issue seriously? Republican presidential primary voters. Well, GOP voters … and all the Democrats who crossed over to vote for former S.C. governor Nikki Haley last weekend.

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“Who else is taking this issue seriously? Republican presidential primary voters …”

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On Saturday (February 24, 2024), voters who cast ballots in the Palmetto State’s ‘First in the South’ Republican presidential primary were also asked a question about South Carolina’s judiciary and its method of picking judges.

That question read as follows …

Should South Carolina adopt reforms to increase the independence and accountability of our judiciary by improving transparency and reducing conflicts of interest in the process of reviewing judicial qualifications and electing judges?

A total of 694,889 voters answered that question. Of those, 633,547 – or 91.17 percent of respondents – said “yes.”

Obviously, this was a very easy question to answer in the affirmative. Most people would agree transparency in government is a good thing – and conflicts of interest in government are bad. Still, the margin is significant … and the fact party leaders were compelled to put the question on the ballot in the first place is even more significant.

Most significant? The fact lawmakers are feeling the heat to finally get something done on this issue …

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RELATED | SENATORS INTRODUCE JUDICIAL REFORM BILL

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For the first time ever, there is sustained public pressure on South Carolina lawmakers (especially the General Assembly’s lawyer-legislators) to do the right thing and surrender their decades-long stranglehold over the judicial branch.

Will they listen, at long last, to the will of the people?

We will find out this week as state senators have advanced a modest reform bill to the floor of the chamber for debate. While this legislation, as mentioned, is a far cry from the sweeping constitutional overhaul I have proposed, it is a starting point – and the senators who bravely blocked judicial elections until their colleagues agreed to take up the issue deserve credit.

“Ultimately, I care less about the specific structural change and more about the outcomes it engenders,” I noted earlier this month. “Simple or systemic, it is the outcomes which matter.”

It appears there is significant popular support for that notion …

Count on this media outlet to keep our audience in the loop as this debate kicks off in the S.C. Senate this week. More importantly, count on us to continue insisting on the outcomes the citizens of South Carolina deserve from their judicial branch of government.

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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 eight children.

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1 comment

Squishy123 (the original) February 29, 2024 at 9:41 am

So does this mean James Smith is going to have a much harder time waltzing his lazy ass into a judgeship? Is he going to actually have to work at lawyering stuff instead of having his political buddies (Todd Rutherford) hand him something he wants but isn’t qualified to do? Poor, poor Jimmy…

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