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Should SC's governor have say over judges? Dem lawmaker joins calls to shake up process

John Monk, The State on

Published in News & Features

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A South Carolina Democrat is joining calls to give the governor more power and say over the election of state judges.

Freshman state Rep. Heather Bauer, D-Richland, has filed a bill that would remove current lawmakers from a powerful committee that now vets candidates for state judges. Instead, Bauer’s proposal would give Gov. Henry McMaster and future governors more say in the judicial process, while still allowing the 170-member General Assembly to give final approval.

Under Bauer’s proposal, the governor would get to appoint six members to the current 10-member screening commission, called the Judicial Merit Selection Commission, that vets candidates to run for judicial posts. At least one of the governor’s six appointments would be a candidate recommended by the S.C. Bar Association, whose members include all state lawyers, Bauer’s bill says.

No sitting lawmakers could be on the screening commission, the bill says.

Currently, six of the 10 members of the screening commission are lawmakers, and the other four members are of the general public and picked by leaders in the House and Senate.

The current system gives too much power to legislators, many of whom are lawyers and sometimes practice in front of the judges they elect, she said.


“They not only get to pick who runs, but they get to vote (for judge candidates) on the floor,” she said. “That’s just too much power for too few people.”

South Carolina is one of only two states where the Legislature alone exercises overall power in how judges are selected.

Other methods are popular partisan or nonpartisan elections, gubernatorial appointment or various combinations of elections and input from the legislature and a state’s governor.

Under Bauer’s bill, the House speaker and the Senate president would be allowed to appoint two members each to the screening commission. The commission would then forward the names of all candidates it deems qualified for a judge’s post to the General Assembly for a vote, Bauer’s bill says.


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