Sunday, March 18, 2007
Judicial election reforms may be waiting in wings
18, 2007 -- More than likely, the way state judges are picked
will change after this year. With all that's going on at the
Statehouse, it should.
A high-profile, eight-way race for a slot on the S.C. Supreme
Court has the legislature in a tizzy. Some background first:
With the pending retirement of Justice E.C. Burnett III,
state lawmakers are expected in late May to elect a successor.
Because two other current justices face mandatory retirement
at age 72 in the next two years, the election of Burnett's
successor takes on a special significance because the winner
likely will be the next long-serving chief justice.
Current Chief Justice Jean Toal, 63, has just over eight
years to remain the state's top jurist. Because the chief
justice role traditionally is based on seniority of service,
Justice Costa Pleiconas would be the next logical head of
the court. But since he's only six months younger than Toal,
the next jurist in line to make a significant imprint on the
court as chief justice likely will be Burnett's successor.
encourage your feedback. If you'd like to respond to
something in SC Statehouse Report, please
send us an e-mail. We reserve the right to edit for
length and clarity. One submission allowed per month.
Submission of a comment grants permission to us to reprint.
Please keep your comment to 250 words or less:
Lawmakers are feeling selection pressure, insiders say. In
South Carolina, House members and senators elect judges after
a merit-based screening report by the state Judicial Merit
Selection Commission, a 10-member panel of six lawmakers and
four public members.
To be considered, candidates make an application and undergo
background checks. They participate in a series of interviews
and a public hearing. The commission then releases a report
that says whether candidates are qualified. It also makes
up to three recommendations.
At that point, it is acceptable for candidates to solicit
commitments of votes from the 170 House members and senators
who make the final pick. A few weeks later, the vote is held
and a new justice is elected.
Beatty, S.C. Court of Appeals judge
Few, S.C. Circuit Court judge
Goode, S.C. Circuit Court Judge
Goodstein, S.C. Circuit Court judge
Hayes, S.C. Circuit Court judge
Hearn, Chief Judge of the S.C. Court of Appeals
Morehead, Family Court judge
Williams, S.C. Court of Appeals judge
On paper, this blend of a merit-based system that involves
a vote by lawmakers would seem to work. Yes, the vote is a
political process involving legislators. But in a representative
democracy, our society puts a great value on the experience
of lawmakers to make important choices. Additionally, the
commission's input into the process helps to promote the best
candidates in a race.
"I think the combination of merit and legislative elections
is a strong combination," said state Sen. Jim Ritchie,
the Spartanburg Republican who chairs the commission. "But
it is only as credible as the members (of the legislature)
allow it to be."
In practice, the process of becoming a judge has some loopholes.
Because lawmakers aren't allowed to pledge their vote to any
candidate until the release of the commission's qualification
report, there's a gray area of whether a lawmaker can encourage
someone to run before the person applies for the position.
Some argue that people aren't "candidates" until
they make an application to run for a judgeship. Before that
time, they would argue, rules of endorsement don't really
Also, there's a huge system of rumor, innuendo and gossip
that develops prior to judicial elections. Even though lawmakers
aren't supposed to endorse candidates before the report, it
is common to hear that a candidate might have a lawmaker's
quiet backing. In the coming election for a Supreme Court
justice, the gossip mill reportedly is worse than ever before,
according to key insiders.
Another big problem in the process is the daily line-up.
As a judgeship vote approaches, candidates line legislative
walkways just to be seen by the state's 170 lawmakers. It's
not pretty. Candidates struggle to press flesh and get brief
"face time" with lawmakers. In addition to being
a big waste of time for candidates, it is embarrassing to
see them suck up to lawmakers.
For the last two years, the Senate has sent legislation to
the House that would strengthen the judicial merit system
by prohibiting all endorsements, "understandings"
and support of anyone for a judgeship until after the commission's
screening report is public.
If the House doesn't soon adopt that idea, more serious reforms
may be on the way. One way or another, the process needs to
be tightened up to ensure there's no undue influence and we
get the best judges possible - - and not any gussied-up political
You can reach Andy Brack, publisher of
SC Statehouse Report, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another great cartoon by Bill McLemore:
3/16: SC on track to becoming nuclear chump
To the editor:
Thanks for shedding some light on bill 3545, which is designed
to get rid of the Atlantic compact. [Commentary,
The Barnwell site was supposed to close in 1992 when S.C.
was a member of the Southeastern Compact. N.C. was supposed
to take over the job of storing all the "low level"
radioactive waste at that time. Chem-Nuke worked the Statehouse
and though the legislature voted to close the site down by
one vote. Gov. [Carroll] Campbell got around that by sticking
the keep-Barnwell-open-to-everyone bill in the budget.
Now the site is supposed to close to all but three states
within a year. Funny thing, not one shovel of dirt has been
move in any other state in preparation for a new radioactive
dump. They obviously all know that S.C. is going to, yet again,
do what the nuclear industry tells or pays them to do.
-- Leslie Minerd, Columbia, S.C.
Everybody loses with payday lending
To the editor:
column [on payday loans.]
While I'm sure we'll see some legislative action on this,
there's a lot of other work that can be done outside of the
legislative process. My blog
discussed the issue, and my company has talked about the
issue, related to both payday and refund anticipation loans,
in company publications that I write and edit.
Clearly, there is a benefit for employers to be pro-active
on these issues. An employee who keeps more of what they earn
is an employee less likely to leave a company in search of
more pay to offset the money lost to predatory lenders. While
it's not necessarily a bad thing for people to seek to earn
more, many who leave companies for a substantial increase
in pay do so by agreeing to take a step up. If they're taking
that step up for more money because they need to pay bills,
not because they're qualified, they'll likely fail to meet
the expectations for that position,. When that happens, they'll
end up unemployed, worsening their financial predicament.
In the end, everyone loses - the first employer, who lost
a good employee, the second employer, who wasted time and
money on a bad fit for a position, and the employee, who ends
up with no job and more bills to pay.
South Carolina, because of its low standings in so many socio-economic
indicators, is attractive to predatory bottom-feeding businesses
like predatory lenders and video poker. As such, the fight
to protect our state from predators will likely be a long
one. While we need to be able to act to respond to such outrageous
situations, we must also work in a proactive manner which
can help address the underlying conditions which attract these
problems in the first place.
-- Earl Capps, Summerville, S.C.
best way to get South Carolina news is to augment your morning
paper and TV show with SC Clips, a daily executive
news summary compiled from more than 30 state newspaper and
TV sources. It's delivered every business day and is packed
with news of statewide impact, politics, business and more.
Subscriptions are affordable at $30 per month -- and less
for business subscribers. More: SC
How you can subscribe to the full edition
of the report
The above version of S.C. Statehouse Report is the
free edition. Our paid version, which costs about $100 per
month, offer a weekly legislative forecast packed with information
that can keep you and your business on the cutting edge. There's
a new limited paid version for individuals that costs about
$30 per month. More on subscribing.
Notes veteran lawmaker Sen. Glenn McConnell: "Statehouse
Report gives an inside practical report of weekly problems
with and progress of legislation. It reviews the whole landscape."
In each issue of Statehouse Report, you'll get:
- Hot news
-- an early peek on something really big that will happen
at the Statehouse. We continually beat other news organizations
in finding major trends in issues, from teacher and budget
cuts to wetlands proposals.
- Agenda -- a weekly forecast of
the coming week's floor agenda
- Radar Screen -- a behind-the-scenes
look at what's really going on in the General Assembly
- Palmetto Politics
-- Tidbits from the world of South Carolina politics.
- McLemore's World -- an early view
of our respected cartoonist Bill McLemore.
- Tally Sheet -- a weekly review
of all of the new bills introduced in the legislature in
- Blogroll -- a weekly summary of
the best of South Carolina political blogs.
- Scorecard -- A Thumbs Up and Thumbs
Down of major political/policy events for the week.
- Calendar -- a weekly list of major
meetings for the House, Senate and state agencies.
- Megaphone -- a quote of the week
that you'll find illuminating.
To learn more about subscriptions, contact Andy Brack at:
South Carolina Statehouse Report
Publisher: Andy Brack
| Assistant Editor: Betsy
Phone: 843.670.3996 · Fax: 843.722.9887
Subscription or sponsorship Inquiries: email@example.com
Have an event for the SC Statehouse Report calendar?
E-mail details to: firstname.lastname@example.org
or fax to above number.