A Supreme Smack Down – Update

By Paul Gable

UPDATE –

Grand Strand Daily has just learned that the S.C. Supreme Court has ruled for the plaintiffs in yesterday’s hearing finding the Republican Party’s interpretation of the filing law totally incorrect.

As a result, the candidates incorrectly certified by the Florence County Republican Party and Blake Hewitt from House District 105 in Horry County will not be recognized in next week’s Republican Party voting. All of these candidates will be eligible to attempt to become petition or write-in candidates on the November ballot.

From information we have learned during the course of covering this candidate filing controversy the above mentioned candidates will not be the only ones affected statewide. The ruling, far from finishing challenges to candidate eligibility instead could open many more challenges after the elections, but before election results are certified both in the June primaries and in November.

The Ruling:

6-5-2012 – Opinions

27128 – Florence County Democratic Party v. Florence County Republican Party (printer friendly version)

In its original jurisdiction, the Supreme Court issued a declaratory judgment that the Florence County Republican Party improperly construed the relevant statutory provisions to determine certain candidates were exempt from the provisions of S.C. Code Ann. § 8-13-1356(B) (Supp. 2011), as interpreted by the Court in Anderson v. S.C. Election Comm’n, Op. No. 27120 (S.C. Sup. Ct. filed May 2, 2012), which require a Statement of Economic Interests (SEI) to be filed at the same time and with the same official that a Statement of Intention of Candidacy (SIC) is filed. The Court directed the Florence County Republican Party to file with the Court, the Florence County Election Commission, and the South Carolina State Election Commission, by 10:00 a.m. on June 6, 2012, a list of only those non-exempt candidates who simultaneously filed an SEI and an SIC with the party and a sworn statement that all of those candidates were properly certified as defined by the Court in Anderson and in this case. The Court also ordered the Florence County Election Commission, if able, to correct the ballots to remove all improperly certified candidates prior to the party primaries scheduled for June 12, 2012. If this task is not possible, the Court required signs to be prepared and placed in all affected polling places setting forth the names of all improperly certified candidates who appear on the ballots and advising voters that a vote cast for any of the candidates will not be counted. All costs and expenses associated with amendments to the ballots or, if required, preparation and posting of signs were ordered to be borne by the Florence County Republican Party. The Florence County Election Commission was directed not to count any votes cast for an improperly certified candidate. In the event an improperly certified candidate is inadvertently left on the ballot after the required revisions, the political parties were ordered to comply with S.C. Code Ann. § 8-13-1356(E) and not to certify the candidate for the general election.

Republican Party attorney Kevin Hall led with his chin at the Supreme Court Monday and the justices quickly took advantage of the opening.

Hall’s attempt to convince the Court that the Republican Party strictly adhered to state law and an earlier Court ruling when certifying certain (preferred?) candidates for next week’s primary election was quickly destroyed by the justices.

In an opening statement, Chief Justice Jean Toal said a written submission to the court claiming the Republican Party carefully followed the Court’s May 2, 2012 ruling was “not so.” Toal said the Court felt let down in terms of the party being straight with the Court.

Justice Don Beatty called the argument “creative but foolish” and said the submission alleging strict compliance with the law was “an insult to the court’s intelligence.”

At issue was the party’s attempt to justify a convoluted interpretation of the term “public official” in state law. In the case of certain, but not all, candidates, the mere verbal indication that they were going to run for office was enough to give those chosen candidates special treatment by the party.

Using this reasoning, some candidates were exempted by party officials from the legal requirement to file a Statement of Economic Interests at the same time and with the same official with whom they filed their Statement of Intention of Candidacy. This interpretation was clearly at odds with both the letter and intent of sections 8-13-1356(A) and 8-13-1356(B) of state law, which covers requirements for candidate filing.

Hall told the justices the party did not begin thinking about the interpretation until after the May 2nd ruling and that the court missed that reasoning in making its decision.

Justice Costa Pleicones called that argument “disingenuous.”

The initial lawsuit was heard May 1, 2012. A strict ruling of the law was issued one day later by the Supreme Court. Lexington senate candidate Katrina Shealy and four others specifically named in the suit were decertified, but the Court decision had statewide ramifications.

Almost immediately, candidates and party officials tried to find ways around the Court decision.

The Republican Party’s state executive committee recertified Shealy, shortly after the Court decision, after an infamous plea before the committee by Gov. Nikki Haley. Shealy’s was the only successful appeal among five heard by the committee that day.

However, the S.C. Election Commission thwarted that attempted end run around the law. Citing the Supreme Court ruling, the commission refused to put Shealy’s name back on the ballot.

Attempts to skirt the Court ruling did not end with the executive committee hearings.

Chief Justice Jean Toal noted Florence County Republican Party Chairman Bill Pickle said he was certifying every candidate after the initial Court decision.

An Anderson County newspaper reported Sunday that Anderson County Republican Party Chairman Dan Harvell “said state party leaders told him to certify GOP candidates who filed all of their campaign paperwork before the March 30 deadline.”

Two Horry County candidates were certified by state party headquarters after being denied certification by the county party.

Two Georgetown County candidates were not certified by the county party while four other candidates were certified, even though none of the six apparently followed state law properly.

These examples are just cases that we have heard of in the past several weeks. It is probable they are just the tip of an iceberg bearing down on next Tuesday’s primary elections.

State party executive director Matt Moore was quoted in Sunday’s newspaper article as saying the state Republican Party takes complying with the law very seriously.

Disingenuous statements from S.C. Republican Party headquarters have become the norm during this ongoing election filing debacle.

The Court’s May 2nd decision, combined with an ever clearer understanding of how it was not applied equally to all Republican candidates, will surely lead to further lawsuits.

A decision on yesterday’s hearing is expected later today. It is not expected to go well for Republican Party officials.

Related >> SCGOP statement on Florence County election case

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