S.370 – Constitutional amendment making judges gubernatorial appointment
S.370 would amend the state constitution by having the governor appoint Supreme Court justices, Court of Appeals, and Circuit Court judges rather than having them elected by the legislature. It would also prohibit former legislators from applying for judicial office unless they have been out of office for at least two years, rather than allowing the required elapsed time to be set by the General Assembly (under current law it is one year). Finally, the bill would place the makeup of the Judicial Merit Selection Commission (JMSC) in the constitution rather than merely state law, and would add five members:
- three appointed by the governor
- one who is a retired justice and is appointed by the sitting state Supreme Court chief justice
- the president of the SC Bar Association
Allowing the governor to appoint justices is a key element of the needed reforms in South Carolina. However, this bill preserves the legislative domination over the judicial selection process through the makeup and function of the JMSC. While this bill adds members from the other branches of government and even the bar association, the legislature retains control of two/thirds of the commission. This is a far cry from the independent judicial selection committee recommended by the American Bar Association. Further, this bill would do nothing to change the current system in which the JMSC nominates up to three candidates for each office to the electing authority, making the gubernatorial appointments a mere formality. If this bill passed, South Carolina’s judicial branch would still not be independent of the other branches of government.