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ISSUE 11.41
Oct. 12, 2012

RECENT ISSUES:
10/10 | 10/03 | 9/26 | 9/19

Index

News :
Judging the judges
Legislative Agenda :
Two for tango
Radar Screen :
Serving the elderly
Palmetto Politics :
You shouldn't be surprised
Commentary :
People deserve more from leaders
Spotlight :
ACLU of South Carolina
My Turn :
Hope: our most potent, unyielding emotion
Feedback :
We all know the answer, Sue
Scorecard :
From cocks to, well, it's not good
Stegelin :
Voter I.D.
Megaphone :
Perhaps (just a tad) a little over the top
Tally Sheet :
Find legislative bills
Encyclopedia :
South Carolina's judiciary

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NUMBER OF THE WEEK

17,000

That’s roughly how many South Carolinians have registered to vote on the state’s new online voter registration system this year. About 8,000 more went on the site to change their addresses. Cool. More.

MEGAPHONE

Perhaps (just a tad) a little over the top

"South Carolina just won the Voter  ID case! Lawsuit by unions....WON! lawsuit by NLRB against Boeing..... WON! Protecting the integrity of the voting process by showing picture ID....WON! The Feds keep throwing punches but in South Carolina heels and boxing gloves prevail! This is another win for our state and country!"

-- Gov. Nikki Haley, celebrating on her Facebook page that a federal three-judge panel upheld the state’s controversial voter I.D. bill, but delaying its implementation.

TALLY SHEET

Find legislative bills

This year's legislative session may be over, but you can still find information about bills and new laws online through the links below.

ENCYCLOPEDIA

South Carolina's judiciary

Part 1 of 2

The purpose of any state judicial system is to resolve civil disputes among residents and to determine the guilt or innocence of persons accused of crimes and infractions. Article V of the state constitution provides for a uniform system of justice throughout the state.

Although the contemporary courts in South Carolina are more or less “uniform,” this is a recent occurrence. Judicial systems developed in a haphazard fashion over the centuries. As new forms of disputes arose—such as traffic violations, domestic disturbances, and massive amounts of civil litigation—new courts were created to meet specialized needs. Predictably, this process led to a state judicial system that was fragmented and lacked consistency.

At least six types of trial courts existed by the early 1970s, yet no single judicial district contained all of the types represented. Moreover, the lines of appeal varied. Cases appealed from municipal courts could, in some counties, be taken to the county courts, while in other counties these cases were reviewed by circuit courts. Meanwhile, county courts in one county might have jurisdiction over civil suits of $5,000 or less, while these courts in other counties could hear cases exceeding $11,000 in value. This chaotic situation was finally resolved during a reform movement that occurred between 1975 and 1990. Grounded in recommendations from the American Bar Association, the state constitution was revised to eliminate most of the specialized courts and to provide greater consistency in procedure and jurisdiction.

Following a model that is present in every state, the South Carolina judicial system is now structured hierarchically. The two highest courts are both appellate bodies, meaning that they almost exclusively adjudicate cases that have been referred to them from lower courts. Appellate courts do not establish facts, as do trial courts. Instead, they apply the facts that have been established at lower levels to the relevant laws or policies, and/or they ascertain whether appropriate procedures were followed in the courts below.

The highest court in the state is the South Carolina Supreme Court, which consists of one chief justice and four associate justices. These are selected by the General Assembly to ten-year terms. As the final level of appeal within South Carolina, the state supreme court exercises two types of jurisdiction, mandatory and discretionary.

Cases that the court
must hear (mandatory) arrive by writ of appeal from lower trial courts and include such topics as the death penalty, public utility rates, public bond disputes, and election law violations. A far larger amount of the court’s time is devoted to discretionary appeals—cases that arrive by writ of certiorari and which may or may not be decided, depending on the preferences of the justices. In an average year the court will review about three thousand cases and issue about 250 full opinions.

Additionally the state supreme court exercises broad administrative powers over the other courts in the state. With the assistance of the Office of the South Carolina Court Administrator, the court prepares the judicial system budget, allocates resources, and assigns lower court judges on the basis of workloads. The S.C. Supreme Court is also responsible for admitting persons to practice law in the state and for disciplining lawyers and judges who commit ethical misconduct.

(To be continued...)
 -- Excerpted from the entry by Steven W. Hays. To read more about this or 2,000 other entries about South Carolina, check out The South Carolina Encyclopedia by USC Press. (Information used by permission.)

PALMETTO PRIORITIES

Palmetto Priorities Statehouse Report encourages state leaders to develop and implement Palmetto Priorities involving several issues to make the state better a better place. Click the link to learn more about our suggestions for bipartisan policy objectives.

Here is a summary of our Palmetto Priorities:

CORRECTIONS: Reduce the prison population by 25 percent by 2020.

EDUCATION: Cut the state's dropout rate in half by 2020.

ELECTIONS: Increase voter registration to 75 percent by 2015.

ENVIRONMENT: Adopt a state energy policy that requires energy producers to generate 20 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2020.

ETHICS: Overhaul state ethics laws.

HEALTH CARE: Ensure affordable and accessible health care.

JOBS: Develop a Cabinet-level post to add, retain 10,000 small business jobs per year.

POLITICS: Have a vigorous two- or multi-party political system of governance.

ROADS: Strengthen all bridges and upgrade state roads by 2015.

SAFETY: Cut the state's violent crime rate by one-third by 2016.

TAX REFORM: Remove outdated special interest sales tax exemptions as part of an overall reform of the state's tax structure to be completed by 2014.

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YOUR COMMENTARY SOUGHT

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News

Judging the judges

Who should have the upper hand in selecting our jurists?

By Bill Davis, senior editor

OCT. 12, 2012 – Several Statehouse candidates are pushing an issue that could become a flash point to ignite change of one of the most important process of state government: how South Carolina selects its judges.

Critics, like state Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort), want to give the power to nominate judicial candidates to the governor. But State Sen. Larry Martin (R-Pickens), chair of Senate Judiciary, said that to change the judge selection process would take an amendment to the state constitution.

How the process now works

Currently, lawyers who want to be on a state bench or sitting judges who want to stay on the bench must first submit an application to the state’s joint Judicial Merit Selection Commission, which includes members of the House and Senate, as well as lawyers and other laymen appointed by the General Assembly.

Once a candidate pool is created, their names are turned over to five citizen committees representing different geographical areas of the state. The committees report back to the joint commission.

Then the candidates, if they want to forge ahead, are further vetted by the commission, which then issues a report to the General Assembly as to whether they are qualified.  The commission next whittles the field and approves three candidates for legislative consideration.

Finally, the legislature votes to see which of the three candidates will be given a spot on or return to a state bench.

South Carolina is one of two states, including Virginia, which uses this process. State Sen. Gerald Malloy (D-Hartsville), the former head of a statewide trial lawyers association and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the current process is the “envy of all the other states” for its non-partisanship and stability.

But critics say it’s legislatively-dominated

The problem, according to candidates like Davis, is the process is almost completely dominated by the legislature. He points out how members of the legislature, many of whom are lawyers who may appear before that judge in the future, select and then fund the judiciary.

Davis said he saw this as a clear violation of “the three independent branches of government we all learned about in third grade.” Therefore, he favors a process whereas the governor lays out three candidates, and then only the Senate votes on them.

Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, however, said that a gubernatorial appointee system would be wrong for the state on four different issues. One, it could pave the way for further politicization of the process, as a governor could use donor lists as the de facto candidate list, hidden away from public scrutiny in back rooms.

Two, he said, powerful and rich law firms could skew judicial appointments with donations to governors’ campaigns. Three, it limits public input and scrutiny. And four, it limits the number of eyes looking over the candidates.

“Our predecessors in South Carolina were not so much as witnesses to history, as they were victims of history,” said McConnell, who led the charge for most of the past reforms that have resulted in the current process when he was the commission’s chair and the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“As a result, South Carolina never liked consolidation of power in one person,” said McConnell.

The current commission chairman, state Rep. Greg Delleney (R-Chester), agreed, saying that the state, because of its history as one of the original 13 colonies, “has never had use for a king.”

McConnell said that if the current process were in need of any sort of reform, it would be increase public participation.

So what?  Both methods are political

Both sides of the argument make the case that their path would lead to removing politics from the process – a moot argument, according to some leading academics.

Scott Huffmon, one of the state’s leading political scientist and the head of the state’s most influential polling center at Winthrop University, said that “straight gubernatorial appointment is no less political a method of judicial appointment than legislative appointment-election.” 

He continued: “The only thing worse than either of the two is direct election of judges because of the inherent conflict of interest engendered in the need to raise money and the lack of information available to the public and their lack of knowledge of the inner working of the judicial system.”

Delleney said the argument for changing the current system is an imported one by “Northerners” who want a system that mirrors the federal model and the one they were used to before relocating to the Palmetto State.

Martin, the Pickens Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that to change the judicial selection process would likely take an amendment to the state constitution.

Davis, a New Jersey native and Furman graduate, argued the state’s reverence for the U.S. Constitution need not extend to South Carolina’s version, which he said was flawed since it was constructed by Ben Tillman in 1895 to limit gubernatorial power if a black person were elected to that office.

Crystal ball: While Gov. Nikki Haley’s office has not made an official call or push for gubernatorial judicial appointees, it would fit in nicely with her calls for accountability and streamlining state government through restructuring. That being said, there is substantial opposition to changing the current process due to stated reasons and the unspoken 400-pound gorilla in the room – the legislature never wants to cede any power to the executive branch. But if Davis is right, the legislative dominance of state government has helped retard the state’s progress, then calls for change in the balance will have to come from outside – the people.

Bill Davis is editor of Statehouse Report.  He can be reached at:  bill@statehousereport.com.

Legislative Agenda

Two for tango

  • Environment. The Isolated Wetlands and Carolina Bays Task Force will meet Wednesday at 10 a.m. in 105 Gressette to begin discussions. Agenda.

  • Education. State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais will host a series of additional “community stakeholder” meetings, the next being Tuesday at Beaufort High School, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Agenda.

Radar Screen

Serving the elderly

Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell is about to open a can of whup-butt on what he sees as the incomplete support of state government, specifically under the Sanford administration, for services helping the needy elderly.

Palmetto Politics

You shouldn't be surprised

In an announcement that will only surprise and disappoint in klaverns located throughout South Carolina, a three-judge federal panel delayed implementation of the state’s voter I.D. law. But the judges did uphold the law, saying there was no racist intent in requiring voters to provide photo identification before being allowed to cast their ballots, and that the law abridged no one’s right to vote.

The panel, however, said there was not enough time between their ruling this week and the November 6 general election for it to be implemented. So it will be delayed until next year. Additionally, voters next year can still cast their ballots without presenting identification if they sign an affidavit claiming they had a “reasonable impediment” to getting the photo identification.

Speaker’s future on mute?

It’s going to be interesting to see how House Speaker Bobby Harrell (R-Charleston) weathers the storm of having reimbursed himself for close to $325,000 over recent years from his campaign fund.

So far, Harrell has offered seemingly incomplete paperwork records of the expenditures and incomplete excuses that the reimbursements comply with state law.

Harrell has been able to keep his job in the House -- despite grumbling from some in his own party on things like an all-too-public abortion debate in the waning weeks of a recent legislative session -- by knitting together votes from mainstream Republicans and Democrats.

If this story erupts into a full scandal (think: disgraced former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard), Harrell could be hard-pressed to keep his top-dog office.

Commentary

People deserve more from leaders

By Andy Brack, editor and publisher

OCT. 12, 2012 -- “Trust me.”

That what all of these candidates who want your votes are saying, if you boil it down to the basics.

But there’s a disconnect. More than half of registered voters in South Carolina trust the state or national governments only some of the time, according to 2012 Winthrop Polls. Only a quarter to a third trust the government most of the time.

If you wonder how this could be, look to recent headlines. Just this year, the governor has been hauled twice before the House Ethics Committee on ethics questions, which have been turned back twice, and now the speaker of the S.C. House faces serious questions about hundreds of thousands in campaign reimbursements. Last year, the state’s lieutenant governor stepped down from office and pleaded guilty to federal charges because of campaign money shenanigans.

So it’s no wonder that people sit out elections, unwilling to dip their toes in the murky water of politics. And it’s no wonder that people who would be better leaders than we get to choose at the polls often sit on the sidelines of politics, unwilling to jump into a system that churns people up into shark bait.

 This is not what the framers of our country and state had in mind when they set up our three branches of government. They developed a representative democracy in which people elected leaders to go to Congress or the Statehouse to represent their views and use their best judgment to solve the tough issues of the day. 

To return to the fundamentals of our democracy, we have to demand more of our leaders. We should let them know in no uncertain terms that they need to wake up and stop business as usual. 

To restore trust in our state government, our leaders must:

Fundamentally reform state ethics laws with more financial reporting and more openness. Leaders need to be beacons of the highest standard of ethical conduct. 

Ensure a vigorous two- or multi-party system so that if someone does something wrong, there’s a realistic alternative to throw out the bad guy. As it is, South Carolina essentially has a one-party system -- a system of incumbent control, regardless of political party. With gerrymandered political districts rigged to protect those in power, there’s no mystery why there’s so little real competitiveness at the polls and why outcomes are as plain now as the nose on your face.

Get the big money out of politics. Stop the secret donations on national and state levels. Curb the political action committees. Only if we can remove the secrecy can we start building trust again.

There are some indications that trust is increasing. A Gallup Poll in September showed 66 percent of Americans trusted government a great deal or a fair amount when it comes to handling international problems and 51 percent for domestic problems. Both numbers were up almost 10 points from the previous year. (Congress remains in the dumps at 34 percent, while trust in the media was 40 percent.)

Perhaps trust is growing a bit because of the waning of the tea party, the nation’s exit from Iraq,  movement out of Afghanistan and improvements in the economy, among other things. 

One thing is for sure: Leaders need to work together to earn voters’ trust by implementing real changes and stop doing what has always been done.

ON A RELATED SUBJECT, is a pattern developing for how Gov. Nikki Haley handles criticism?

After being dragged before the House Ethics Committee and then exonerated, all of a sudden she embraced ethics reform so that no one had to face what she faced. She did a big fly-around series of news conferences calling for reform with vigor.

Then she got her hand slapped for using state airplanes in violation of a budget clause that banned their use for things like bill signings -- and the news conferences on ethics reform. Haley reimbursed the state $9,590. And then called for the planes to be sold.

Isn’t the governor’s fervor for these reforms a bit too convenient -- that she stands on a soapbox for reforms after her hand has been caught in the cookie jar? Food for thought.

Andy Brack is publisher of Statehouse Report.  You can reach Brack at: brack@statehousereport.com.

Spotlight

ACLU of South Carolina

The public spiritedness of our underwriters allows us to bring Statehouse Report to you at no cost. This week's spotlighted underwriter is the American Civil Liberties Union.  The ACLU of South Carolina’s National Office in Charleston is dedicated to preserving the civil liberties enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Through communications, lobbying and litigation, the ACLU South Carolina’s National Office works to preserve and enhance the rights of all citizens of South Carolina.  Foremost among these rights are freedom of speech and religion, the right to equal treatment under law, and the right to privacy.  More:  http://www.aclusouthcarolina.org/
My Turn

Hope: our most potent, unyielding emotion

By Bud Ferillo
Special to Statehouse Report
EDITOR’S NOTE:  Longtime public education champion Bud Ferillo of Columbia became the third person to win the Chester C. Travelstead Award for Courage in Education Sept. 24 from the University of South Carolina’s Museum of Education.  Read more about the award here.  Ferillo, who has pushed for decades for improved human rights in South Carolina, produced the award-winning documentary, "Corridor of Shame: The Neglect of South Carolina’s Rural Schools,” which Statehouse Report was first to review.  Ferillo continues to fight for high-quality public education today.  Below is an excerpt of his prepared acceptance remarks.  To read the full remarks, click here.

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- While I love my native state as much as anyone, I know in my heart that she was born in the original sin of human bondage and we are stained with it to this day. To me, that is the long and the short of it. U. S. Senator James Louis Petigru was right when he heard the church bells of Charleston announcing the state had seceded from the Union and said “We are too small to be a separate nation and too large to be an insane asylum.”

It is long past time, for South Carolina to let go of its crippling past, which the world knows all too well, and embrace a more enlightened and hopeful future. After all, our state motto is “While I breathe, I hope.” We should start breathing the fresh air of inclusion, of racial reconciliation, of honest dialog and mutual problem-solving before other generations of children in our rural schools are lost. That’s my hope. That’s my hope.

Hope. It is all about hope.

Hope is the most potent, unyielding emotion. Love fluctuates. Anger fades. Even faith tests us and abandons us from time to time. Hope can’t do that. If you have a glimmer of hope, you have all you need.

Anyone who imagines something better for just an instant has a kind of hope. A break in the heat. A kiss goodnight. The sound of the front door opening when your child has been out late. Hope … when the doctor says the test results are good and the tumor is not malignant, the yellow ribbon on the tree in the front yard that cries out for the safe return of a loved one in harm’s way.

Hope is getting a high school diploma, a letter of acceptance from college – maybe the first in your family to get one – the call to come back for a second interview for a first job.

Hope runs on our species’ unique ability to create something that wasn’t there before. That’s why its power is unassailable.

"Hope is believing in the day when every school in South Carolina is a launching pad of 21st century of learning, learning with no limits, a source of enlightenment and engagement for every community, the production line of this state’s workforce and never again the basis of national shame."

Feeling hope doesn’t always call us to action but it is the only thing we need to begin to change from who we have been to who we must become.

And the moment we feel it, everything is changed. That makes hope a source of nearly infinite power. Hope is not weak; it is so very strong.

Hope is the roadside vagabond with a glint of armor and the sword of justice under his coat. Hope is never running out of matches to light the fires of social justice and educational excellence.

Hope is a South Carolina where all of us turn away from a difficult past, begin the process of forgiveness we have avoided for so long and embrace a future of mutual respect and reconciliation, a movement that can yield a second, final, successful Reconstruction.

And yes, hope is that little girl you’ve heard tell about who went to a crumbling school in Dillon and wrote so powerfully and simply that she just wants the opportunity “to grow up and be a doctor, or a lawyer or President of the United States.”

Hope is believing in the day when every school in South Carolina is a launching pad of 21st century of learning, learning with no limits, a source of enlightenment and engagement for every community, the production line of this state’s workforce and never again the basis of national shame.

Finally, hope is the thing we should stop saying we breathe and start holding it out, holding it high and living it, for all the world to see from little South Carolina: that we have finally risen from the divisions of the past, that we have rejected the low aim of a minimally adequate education and embraced the blessings and opportunity at last, at last, at last for “all the children of all the people” from the mountains to the sea.

Ferillo, a communications specialist for the USC Children’s Law Center who has a private public relations practice, is a native of Charleston.

Feedback

We all know the answer, Sue

EDITOR’S NOTE: The first comment is to a question posed in last week’s news story about efforts to help at-risk kids graduate from high school. Sue Berkowitz, head of the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center essentially posed the question about whether such efforts were Band-aids or ladders.

To Statehouse Report:

And we all know the answer. It’s Band-aids.

We keep looking for some cheap, simple, easy answer when there isn’t one. And we keep trying these stop-gap measures, measures we would never settle for our own children. All the while we get farther away from understanding that in the grand scheme of things – not just morally, or ethically, but economically and socially and for the long term well-being of the Republic – these are ALL our children.

-- Jon Butzon, Summerville, S.C.

Why are we spending money on this program?

To Statehouse Report:

Why don't you look at the Career and Technology students (CATE)?

Graduation rates are about 98 percent and many of these students have college or technical school credits. This is a circullium [sic] based program, NOT a "stay in school program." SO! Why are we spending money on JAG?

-- S.C. Rep. Dwight Loftis (R), Greenville, S.C.

Likes Haley

To Statehouse Report:

The governor does not appear to be any worst than the rest of the politicians in South Carolina. [See Andy Brack’s commentary, “Haley can’t ignore her options.”)

I am an independent voter, and I would vote for her if she runs against Senator Graham, just look at his voting record, he is not nor will he ever be a conservative. His voting record does not reflect the wishes of the voters of South Carolina.

-- David Luttrell, Cowpens, S.C.

Drop us a line.  We love hearing from our readers and encourage you to share your opinions.  But you've got to provide us with contact information so we can verify your letters. Letters to the editor are published weekly. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.

We generally publish all comments about South Carolina politics or policy issues, unless they are libelous or unnecessarily inflammatory. One submission is allowed per month. Submission of a comment grants permission to us to reprint. Comments are limited to 250 words or less.  Please include your name and contact information.

Scorecard

From cocks to, well, it's not good

Cocks. [Disclaimer: the writer of this UP “studied” at the University of Georgia.] The USC-Columbia men’s varsity football team, the Gamecocks, received its first #3 national ranking in 28 years this week after cheating, using lasers and notepads disguised as napkins to defeat the proud University of Georgia Bulldogs last week in Columbia, on its home turf, in front of a partisan crowd who were clearly using homeless people trucked in from around the state to blow into loud horns and employing mind-control rays to disrupt their opponents grand and vaunted offense. More. 

Voter I.D. While a federal panel of judges did uphold the state’s controversial voter I.D. law, it delayed its implementation until next year’s elections, perhaps giving sanity a chance to return. More.

Harrell. It’s time for a full accounting of the $325,000 you reimbursed yourself from your campaign trough, Speaker Harrell. See? We just used the word “trough.” That’s not a good sign. More.

Irony. Gov. Nikki Haley is seriously considering selling state planes … after she was presented with a sizable bill for having used them … for what she thought was state business … which it kinda was. Does anyone else think it’s odd that Haley often sees the light of reform after being busted for the new, shiny thing she wants to reform? More.
Stegelin

Voter I.D.


credits

Statehouse Report

Editor and Publisher: Andy Brack
Senior Editor: Bill Davis
Contributing Photographer: Michael Kaynard

Phone: 843.670.3996

© 2002 - 2014 , Statehouse Report LLC. Statehouse Report is published every Friday by Statehouse Report LLC, PO Box 22261, Charleston, SC 29413.
Excerpts from The South Carolina Encyclopedia are published with permission and copyrighted 2006 by the Humanities Council SC. Excerpts were edited by Walter Edgar and published by the University of South Carolina Press. Statehouse Report has partnered with USC Press to provide readers with this interesting weekly historical excerpt about the state. Republication is not allowed. For additional information about Statehouse Report, including information on underwriting, go to http://www.statehousereport.com/.