State House

South Carolina Senate: Judicial Reform Bill Set For ‘Special Order’

Will Palmetto State lawmakers finally give up this corrosive power?

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A bill to reform the way South Carolina picks judges has been put on the front burner in the Palmetto State Senate – a move supporters hope will clear they way for a fairer, less conflicted judicial branch of government.

The bill – S. 1046 – was previewed by this media outlet earlier this month.

As we reported, the proposed legislation would enact multiple changes to the composition and operation of the state’s scandal-scarred Judicial Merit Selection Commission (JMSC). For starters, instead of having ten members appointed by legislative leaders, the reconfigured panel would be comprised of nine appointees: Two named by the governor, two named by the speaker of the House, one named by the Senate president, one by the Senate judiciary chairman, one chosen by the state’s sixteen solicitors, one chosen by the state’s public defenders and one chosen by the chief justice of the S.C. supreme court.

None of the appointees to the reconfigured panel would be allowed to be members of the S.C. General Assembly – or family members of state lawmakers.

According to state senator Wes Climer – one of the lead sponsors of the proposed legislation – the provision removing lawmakers from the JMSC is the part of the bill most likely to encounter opposition.

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“The hill we’re going to have to charge is keeping legislators off of the JMSC completely,” Climer told me this week. “That could be the dividing line between the real reformers and everybody else.”

Can it be done?

“The votes are pretty close for real reform,” Climer said.

Along with state senators Josh Kimbrell and Rex Rice, Climer blocked judicial elections in the Palmetto State earlier this year – insisting senators pass a judicial reform bill prior to voting on any new judges.

Why was such bold action warranted? Because 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 our system.

And the people have had enough of it …

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RELATED | JUDICIAL REFORM WINS IN A LANDSLIDE

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South Carolina is one of only two states in America in which lawmakers picks judges. That process is led by the JMSC, 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 – a problem which is getting worse, not better.

Also getting worse? The overt politicization of legislative elections for judges – a process invariably driven by corrupt insider dealmaking.

As I noted earlier this week, the bill being advanced in the Senate is a far cry from the sweeping constitutional overhaul I have proposed – but it is a starting point. This week, Senate leaders set the measure for special order – meaning they voted to bring it forward to the top of their calendar for a debate on the floor.

In exchange for the reform bill moving to the top of the calendar, Climer, Kimbrell and Rice released their hold on judicial elections. Rather than hold some of these controversial votes right away, lawmakers have scheduled most of them for April – right after the filing period closes for this spring’s partisan primary elections.

“They want to make sure none of their votes come back to haunt them,” one State House observer told me.

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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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2 comments

Squishy123 (the original) February 29, 2024 at 10:27 pm

Does this mean James Smith won’t get his judge position? I bet he and Rutherford are pissed. Now Jimmy is going to have to stay at the law firm where they’re already not happy about him not pulling his weight as partner. If he doesn’t get his shit together he’s going to be sitting home gluing crap to cardboard with his wife and pretending it’s art.

Reply
Rock101FM March 3, 2024 at 9:36 pm

I wonder if the Charleston County Public Defender’s Office will be rocked?

Reply

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