S.C. Supreme Court to Parties – “Stuff It”

By Paul Gable

The gang that can’t shoot straight was at it again Thursday morning as a motion filed by the Republican and Democratic parties and the state Election Commission was late arriving at the Supreme Court.

Working with a deadline of 10 a.m., the motion, which requested a rehearing of the case, arrived seven minutes after the deadline. Fortunately for the three parties to the motion (can we call them the Three Stooges?) the Court accepted the motion despite its tardiness.

Thursday’s motion said candidates filed their paperwork based on instructions from party officials. The parties said they wanted to make sure that a printed receipt of the electronic filing of Statement of Economic Interests presented with the Statement of Intention of Candidacy or a paper filing of the SEI at the same time an SIC was filed, but without the electronic filing was sufficient to allow candidates on the ballot.

It only took the court a matter of hours to answer the motion. The answer, in the form of an order, was, again, a very strict ruling on state law and a denial of the rehearing request. Essentially, the Court told the “Three Stooges” where to shove their request.

The order is as follows:

This Court was asked to issue a declaratory judgment in its original jurisdiction to construe S.C. Code Ann. § 8-13-1356 (Supp. 2011). We have issued our opinion, and the parties now ask the Court to reconsider this matter and clarify the opinion. In addition, the Sumter County Democratic Party asks the Court for permission to file an amicus curiae brief.

The request by Sumter County Democratic Party for permission to file an amicus curiae brief is denied.

Our opinion in Anderson v. S.C. Election Comm’n, Op. No. 27120 (S.C. Sup. Ct. filed May 2, 2012), speaks for itself and stands as written. Accordingly, we deny the request for rehearing.

As to the request for clarification, the parties’ contention that our opinion holds § 8-13-1356 is satisfied if an individual, when filing a Statement of Intention of Candidacy (SIC), provides the political party with a paper copy of a Statement of Economic Interest (SEI), whether previously electronically filed or not, is correct. However, we reject the parties’ contention that our opinion allows compliance with the statute in any other fashion.

We direct the parties to file with the State Election Commission or the appropriate county election commission, by noon on May 4, 2012, a list of candidates who complied with § 8-13-1356 as the statute is written and as has been interpreted by this Court.

The order was signed by Costa M. Pleicones, Acting Chief Justice

So far, incumbents have generally been given a pass. The law states public officials are exempt from the requirement of filing an SEI when the SIC is filed if they have a current form on file. To this point, what is “current” has not been clarified.

We are told there was a brainstorming session by lawyers at the General Assembly yesterday to consider how the Supreme Court ruling would affect incumbents. The consensus opinion was that incumbents who are running for the same office they presently hold had until April 15, 2012 to file an SEI. Do they still get a pass if they missed that deadline?

However, those current officeholders who are seeking a different office in the upcoming election were considered to be bound by the rule for challengers to file an SEI at the same time and with the same official they filed their SIC.

This interpretation of the law has some logic because SEI’s are due from incumbent officeholders by April 15th each year, but the interpretation may not stand up to a court challenge of equal application of the law if one arises.

Why should non incumbents have one set of filing rules while incumbents have a different set of filing rules for the same election? Why isn’t everyone, incumbent and challenger alike, required to file the same forms at the same time by the same deadline?

As we stated in an earlier article and Justice Pleicones reiterated during Tuesday’s hearing, this seems like an “Incumbent Candidate Private Relief Bill.”

Even with this latest clarification by the court, the legal wrangling won’t be over. We are hearing of candidates who are threatening to sue their party and party officials, because they (the candidates) did not understand and follow the law.

Can those candidates really expect us to be impressed with this logic? What they are asking is for us to elect people as lawmakers who can’t be bothered to understand and follow the law themselves and who refuse to take the blame for anything.

Sorry, I forgot. The law doesn’t apply to politicians and, if it does, they will change it or expect a ‘do over’. Not this time!