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|
Judicial selection in South Carolina follows the method of legislative election of judges. South Carolina is one of the two states in the county, the other being Virginia, where elections are held in the General Assembly.
Selection by court
Justices of the South Carolina Supreme Court are elected to ten year terms in the South Carolina General Assembly. Since 1997, the South Carolina Judicial Merit Selection Commission has screened and selected candidates to submit to the legislature. After the commission recommends three candidates to the legislature, it has the option of choosing one of the three or rejecting the entire slate.
The chief justice of the court serves a ten year term and is elected by the legislature.
In order to serve on the court, the following requirements must be met:
- be a United States citizen;
- be between 32 and 72 years of age;
- a resident of the state for at least five years; and
- licensed as an attorney for at least eight years.
Court of Appeals
Judges of the South Carolina Court of Appeals are elected by the state legislature for a six year term.
Interim vacancies are filled with the legislative election of a replacement. Like Supreme Court justices, appellate court judges are also screened and nominated by the South Carolina Judicial Merit Selection Commission. Once appointed, the new judge then completes the unexpired term before standing for re-election.
The chief judge for a six year term by the general assembly.
Judges of the South Carolina Circuit Courts are elected by the general assembly for a term of six years. Judges at this level are also nominated by the Judicial Merit Selection Commission.
The judges of the South Carolina Family Courts are elected by the general assembly for six year terms. Three candidates are nominated by the Judicial Merit Selection Commission, and the General Assembly appoints one.
Masters-in-Equity are chosen via gubernatorial appointment, but with the advice and consent of the General Assembly. Applicants are screened and nominees forwarded by the Merit Selection Commission. Uniquely, the commission makes its recommendation to the county's legislative delegation in which the Master would serve. The delegation ultimately nominates the candidate, while the governor appoints the judge. If he or she disagrees with the nominee, the governor may reject the choice of the delegation, though the latter then puts forth another candidate.
To qualify for service, nominees must pass an eligibility test and have an undergraduate degree.
The judges of the South Carolina Probate Courts are the only judges chosen by the voters in popular elections. They serve four year terms. Probate Court judges have been elected in the state since 1890.
The South Carolina Municipal Courts are run individually by the municipality in which they reside. Because of this, rules for the courts vary by jurisdiction. Terms are set by each municipal council, and can be no less than two years and no more than four.
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 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 in the state Supreme Court, based on original jurisdiction. The court ruled in favor of JMSC, finding that the constitution does not prohibit legislators from serving on the commission.
Criticism of current system
During this 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 a '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 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.
- How Judges Are Elected in South Carolina
- Judicial Merit Selection Commission
- American Judicature Society, South Carolina: Formal Changes Since Inception
- IslandPacket.com, "Legislators, judge debate diversity in state courts," October 12, 2011
- "The Untouchables: The Impact of South Carolina's New Judicial Selection System on the South Carolina Supreme Court, 1997-2003". Albany Law Review, Kimberly C. Petillo, 2005 Scroll to page 941
- League of Women Voters of South Carolina, Judicial Selection in S.C. - The Process," September 2008
- American Judicature Society, South Carolina: Selection of Judges
- South Carolina Judicial Department, Family Court
- South Carolina Judicial Department, Magistrate Court
- South Carolina Judicial Department, Probate Court
- South Carolina Judicial Department, Municipal Court
- Opinions of The Supreme Court and Court of Appeals of South Carolina, March 29, 2010 Pages 22-42
- League of Women Voters of South Carolina, "LWVSC Questions Constitutionality of Judicial Selection Process in South Carolina," January 6, 2011
- "The Untouchables: The Impact of South Carolina's New Judicial Selection System on the South Carolina Supreme Court, 1997-2003". Albany Law Review, Kimberly C. Petillo, 2005 Scroll to page 937
- "The Untouchables: The Impact of South Carolina's New Judicial Selection System on the South Carolina Supreme Court, 1997-2003". Albany Law Review, Kimberly C. Petillo, 2005 Pages 938-940