The American Conservative Voices group hosted 1st Judicial Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe, 16th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett and York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson Tuesday night to hear recommendations on judicial reform in South Carolina.
South Carolina is one of only two states in the Union (Virginia being the other) where judicial appointments are controlled by the legislature. In the remaining 48 states, judges are popularly elected by the people.
Consequently, the judicial branch in South Carolina is in reality not a separate and equal branch of government, but one, at least indirectly, controlled by the General Assembly. Judges’ rulings can, and often are, second guessed by legislators, which can directly affect whether a judge will remain on the bench.
Pascoe gave examples of two different judges who were up for reappointment with no other candidates for their position, but, because each had made a ruling against a legislator-lawyer before them in a case, failed to get through the Judicial Merit Selection Commission (JMSC) part of the judicial appointment process. These were sitting judges, up for reappointment, who failed to be reappointed just because they had made a legislator-lawyer mad at them. That is not an independent judiciary.
The JMSC is composed of 10 members, three members of the House and three members of the Senate along with four non-legislators. The three House members and two of the non-legislators are appointed by the Speaker of the House and the three Senate members and two of the non-legislators are appointed by the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman. This makeup of the commission makes it easy to see how making just one House member or Senator mad at you can tank a candidate’s appointment or reappointment to the bench.
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