By Laird Minor
The appointment of judges may not seem very exciting, but it is vitally important.
In South Carolina, the General Assembly controls every aspect of the judicial appointment process; the Governor plays no role at all. The legislature selects judges, controls their reappointment, and sets their budgets. Because many legislators are lawyers who practice in the state courts, this process presents obvious conflicts of interest for them and creates serious ethical dilemmas for the judges.
The Judicial Merit Selection Commission is responsible for vetting prospective judges. It is dominated by the three powerful politicians who appoint its 10 members, six of whom must be sitting legislators.
The process is so obviously flawed that only one other state in the country (Virginia) uses a similar one.
Sen. Scott Talley has introduced a bill (S.370) that calls for a constitutional amendment to change this process. It would have the governor appoint judges, subject to ratification by the Senate – a procedure similar to that followed at the federal level and by many other states. It wouldn’t eliminate the JMSC, but it would dilute the power of those three politicians by expanding its membership to include five additional members selected otherwise than by them.
Sen. Talley’s bill would bring needed improvement to a badly dysfunctional judicial selection process, but it is stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee. All citizens should contact their legislators to express support for this bill, and demand that it be brought to a floor vote.