Over the span of the last three years, I have had this dream, maybe an obsession, of becoming an attorney. It is a very noble profession and one that requires a sound mind, sound intelliegnce and sound experience.
But, this is not about me. This is about the state of the judiciary in the State of South Carolina. I have concerns with how our lawmakers elect our judges. South Carolina is in rare form with its judicial election process. In South Carolina, legislators control the nomination and election of judges. There is no participation of the executive branch or of the people in this process, which should change. Virginia is the only other state in the United States to elect judges through state legislators. Other methods of appointment include gubernatorial appointment, nonpartisan election, and partisan election.
The correct method of election should include a system of checks and balances. Whether it includes the executive branch or the people, something must change. In the 2015 judicial elections, former Governor Nikki Haley was accused of nepotism regarding one race for the bench in the state. It also sparked a debate on whether South Carolina law should be corrected to avoid conflicts between such things as, legislator's spouses running for a judicial seat and winning the election, which can place everyone involved within the election in the General Assembly in awkward positions.
As I stated earlier, a system of checks and balances needs to be in place for this system to be "proper". I do not think that the answer is to have a partisan election in which candidates are required to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for a campaign as a Republican or a Democrat. This could heavily affect how a judge that is elected this way rules on a case. “The politics of the next popular election and who contributed money should not come into play as a factor” in a judge’s decision, said state Senator Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, when he was asked about this topic in a 2015 The State Newspaper article.
By law, candidates are required to wait 48 hours before they can begin to ask state legislators for their vote. The problem is that these legislators barely have enough time to review the nominations that are normally released on a Thursday afternoon before they are asked for their support by candidates by the next Tuesday afternoon.
I am not bashing the wonderful judicial minds that we currently have on the bench in this state. I have had the opportunity to shadow some excellent judges in this state with extraordinary judicial minds, temperaments, and judicial integrity. I am simply suggesting that South Carolina needs to follow the same model in which federal judges are nominated and approved. The President nominates "qualified" candidates and these candidates are confirmed by the United States Senate, as stated in the Constitution. The same form of elections should be utilized in South Carolina with current Governor Henry McMaster appointing qualified candidates to be approved with the consent of the South Carolina Senate. In this fashion, both the executive and legislative branches of our state have equal say in who is elected to the bench in South Carolina. Selecting judges in this way would make for two branches of government that would be held accountable instead of just one branch. Also, it would provide for a sense of accountability as to who to blame if an issue with judicial conduct does arise. This would ultimately circle back to not only the General Assembly, but also the governor.
No system would be full proof, but I do not believe that any system within politics truly is perfect. It is just a matter of some people, even members of the General Assembly, seeing an opportunity for change within the current system. It is always beneficial to explore options to improve a current process that is in place.