Judicial selection in South Carolina
|Judicial selection in South Carolina|
|South Carolina Supreme Court|
|South Carolina Court of Appeals|
|South Carolina Circuit Courts|
|South Carolina Probate Courts|
Selection of state court judges in South Carolina occurs largely through legislative election. South Carolina is one of only two states in the country, the other being Virginia, where judges are elected by the general assembly rather than by the governor or people.
- See also: Legislative election of judges
The five justices of the supreme court, nine judges of the court of appeals and the 46 judges of the circuit courts are selected in a similar manner. The South Carolina Judicial Merit Selection Commission screens and selects candidates for judgeships then submits a list of three names to the general assembly. The assembly then votes on the candidates, either choosing one of the three recommendations or rejecting the entire slate.
Supreme court justices serve ten-year terms; appeals and circuit judges serve six-year terms. Upon finishing their terms, judges are subject to re-election by the legislature.
Selection of the chief justice or judge
- The supreme court chooses its chief justice by the same legislative election process used to select other judges. The chief serves in that capacity for ten years.
- The court of appeals also selects is chief judge by legislative election. The chief serves in that capacity for six years.
- The chief judge of each circuit court is designated by the supreme court chief justice, serving in that capacity for only six months.
Requirements between the appellate and general jurisdiction courts are identical. To serve on either the supreme, appeals or circuit court, a judge must be:
- a U.S. citizen;
- between the ages of 32 and 72;
- a resident of the state for at least five years; and
- licensed as an attorney for at least eight years.
A judge who reaches the age of 72 in office must retire by the end of that calendar year.
If a judge leaves office before the end of his term, the vacancy is filled by legislative election. The appointee serves until the end of his or her predecessor's unexpired term, at which point he must be re-elected by the South Carolina General Assembly to continue serving.
Limited jurisdiction courts
|Probate Court||Family Court||Magistrate Court||Municipal Court||Masters-In-Equity Court|
|Selection:||Popular/partisan election||Legislative election||Gubernatorial appointment with advice/consent of senate||Appointed by municipality||Gubernatorial appointment with advice/consent of general assembly|
|Term:||4 year||6 years||4 years||Varies by municipality, 2-4 years||4 years|
|Qualifications:||U.S. citizen; qualified elector of county; older than 21; 4 year bachelor's degree or 4 years experience as employee in probate judge's office||U.S. citizen; 5-year state resident; circuit resident; 32-72 years old; licensed attorney for 8 years||U.S. citizen; state resident 5 years; 21-72 years old; 2 year associate degree||N/A||U.S. citizen; 5-year state resident; 21-72 yrs old; 2 year associate degree|
Selection methods in South Carolina have undergone significant changes since the inception of the judiciary. Below is a timeline noting the various stages, from the most recent to the earliest:
- 1996: A constitutional amendment was approved by voters, bringing new changes to the state's selection processes the following year:
- The South Carolina Judicial Merit Selection Commission was established to screen and recommend judicial candidates to the general assembly.
- Current members of the general assembly were prohibited from running for judicial office for at least one year after leaving the assembly.
- "Vote swapping" for either judicial votes or votes on legislation was prohibited.
- 1990: A statute passed prohibiting legislative pledges of support for judicial candidates until after the screening process has been completed.
- 1984: Voters approved a constitutional amendment making the court of appeals a "constitutional court." The amendment was ratified by the South Carolina General Assembly the following year.
- 1979: The general assembly created a court with exclusive appellate jurisdiction of criminal and family court cases.
- 1976: A joint committee for the review of judicial candidates was created.
- 1911: Terms of supreme court justices were extended to ten years.
- 1895: Terms of supreme court justices were extended to eight years.
- 1868: Terms of supreme court justices were set at six years; terms of circuit court judges were set at four years.
- 1865: Superior and inferior court judges were elected by the general assembly. Superior court judges served for life while inferior court judges served for four years.
- 1790: Superior court judges were elected for life by joint ballot measure of both houses of the general assembly.
- 1778: All judges were elected for life by the senate and house of representatives.
- 1776: All judges except those of the chancery courts were elected for life by the general assembly and legislative council.
The most recent effort at reform comes from a lawsuit filed by Judge Frances P. Segars-Andrews of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Family Court in the case of Frances P. Segars-Andrews v. Judicial Merit Selection Commission, et al. Segars-Andrews was not recommended for re-election by the Judicial Merit Selection Commission (JMSC) in 2010. Following the decision, the judge challenged it on the grounds that the composition of the JMSC violated the separation of powers and legislative members are essentially "dual office" holders. The latter is prohibited in the South Carolina Constitution.
The case was heard by the South Carolina Supreme Court, based on original jurisdiction. The court ruled in favor of JMSC, finding that the constitution did not prohibit legislators from serving on the commission.
Criticism of current system
During the lawsuit, the League of Women Voters of South Carolina filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the challenge. It contended that the JMSC "serves as 'gatekeeper' to keep many qualified, diverse, and independent people screened out of the selection process."
In 1996, voters approved the South Carolina Referendum 4B. This constitutional amendment created the Judicial Merit Selection Commission to screen and select nominees for vacancies on the supreme court, court of appeals, circuit courts, and family courts. The commission was instituted the following year.
Need for commission
Prior to the formation of the commission, a joint committee of the South Carolina General Assembly houses would review applicants and recommend nominees for vacancies on the courts. That committee was not bound by statute or specific qualifications for candidates. Also, it was unable to remove an applicant from the process based on lack of qualification. Under this system, quite often judges were former colleagues of the legislators.
Selection of federal judges
United States district court judges, who are selected from each state, go through a different selection process than that of state judges.
The district courts are served by Article III federal judges who are appointed for life, during "good behavior." They are usually first recommended by senators (or members of the House, occasionally). The President of the United States of America nominates judges, who must then be confirmed by the United States Senate in accordance with Article III of the United States Constitution.
|Step||Candidacy Proceeds||Candidacy Halts|
|1. Recommendation made by Congress member to the President||President nominates to Senate Judiciary Committee||President declines nomination|
|2. Senate Judiciary Committee interviews candidate||Sends candidate to Senate for confirmation||Returns candidate to President, who may re-nominate to committee|
|3. Senate votes on candidate confirmation||Candidate becomes federal judge||Candidate does not receive judgeship|
- South Carolina judicial elections
- Legislative election of judges
- Gubernatorial appointment of judges
- Partisan election of judges
- Courts in South Carolina
- Official website of the South Carolina Judicial Department
- South Carolina Judicial Department, "How Judges Are Elected in South Carolina"
- American Judicature Society, "Judicial Selection in the States: South Carolina"
- The Beaufort Gazette, "Legislators, judge debate diversity in state courts," October 12, 2011
- American Judicature Society, "Methods of Judicial Selection: South Carolina," archived October 3, 2014
- The Nerve, "S.C. Legislature Maintains Its Vise Grip on Judiciary," July 2, 2012
- Albany Law Review, "The Untouchables: The Impact of South Carolina's New Judicial Selection System on the South Carolina Supreme Court, 1997-2003," June 30, 2004
- The South Carolina Office of the Attorney General, "To the Honorable Victor A. Rawl," June 7, 2004
- American Judicature Society, "Methods of Judicial Selection: South Carolina; Limited Jurisdiction Courts," archived October 3, 2014
- South Carolina Judicial Department, "Probate Court," accessed September 5, 2014
- South Carolina Judicial Department, "Family Court," accessed September 5, 2014
- South Carolina Judicial Department, "Magistrate Court," accessed September 5, 2014
- South Carolina Judicial Department, "Municipal Court," accessed September 5, 2014
- League of Women Voters of Greenville County, "South Carolina Master-in-Equity Courts and Judges," accessed September 5, 2014
- American Judicature Society, "History of Reform Efforts: South Carolina," archived October 3, 2014
- The Supreme Court of South Carolina, "Opinions of The Supreme Court and Court of Appeals of South Carolina," March 29, 2010 (p.22-42)
- League of Women Voters of South Carolina, "LWVSC Questions Constitutionality of Judicial Selection Process in South Carolina," January 6, 2011
- US Courts, "FAQ: Federal Judges," accessed March 26, 2015