South Carolina Supreme Court Gets Third Black Justice in State’s History

On Wednesday, May 23 2007, State newspaper reporter, Rick Brundrett, reported that S.C. Court of Appeals Judge Donald Beatty (55) from Spartanburg, South Carolina became only the 3rd African-American in South Carolina history to join the state’s highest court.

The former state representative defeated two colleagues on the Court of Appeals — Chief Judge Kaye Hearn of Conway and Bruce Williams of Columbia — to win the seat of retiring S.C. Supreme Court Justice E.C. Burnett.

Judge Beatty is the first African-American to be elected to the five-member court since Ernest Finney Jr. retired in 2000 after six years as the state’s first black chief justice and a total of 15 years on the court.

The court’s first black member was Jonathan Jasper Wright, who served from 1870-77 during Reconstruction.

Judge Beatty said he starting thinking about the Supreme Court about six to eight months ago after being asked to run. Beatty, who served in the military and also on Spartanburg City Council in the late 1980s, was one of 7 children and said growing up in a large family helped him to “negotiate and compromise.


Beatty, who was the only African-American on the 9 member Court of Appeals, said the South Carolina needs more black judges. “We don’t have enough diversity..

Beatty said he was upset by what he described as “unprecedented” attacks against him in recent weeks by several conservative special-interest groups. Greenville-based Conservatives in Action, for example, ran a television ad last weekend in the Spartanburg area branding him as an “ultra-liberal Democrat partisan” and urging three GOP Spartanburg lawmakers to oppose him.

“I think this vote vindicates this Legislature,” Beatty said. “It proved (special-interest groups) can’t buy a judgeship in this state.”Rep. Leon Howard, D-Richland, the current Black Caucus chairman, said he was proud of his fellow Democratic and Republican lawmakers who withstood “an all-out attack” on Beatty by certain special-interest groups. “We had people who voted their convictions to do the right thing to move South Carolina forward, who stood up against the pressure, the threats from right-wingers,” he said.

Two justices, James Moore of Greenwood and John Waller of Marion, face mandatory retirement when they turn 72 over the next two years. Burnett, 65, is retiring effective Sept. 1.The last black candidate to run in a contested Supreme Court race was now-retired Court of Appeals Judge Jasper Cureton,who lost to Costa Pleicones in 2000 after four long ballots. Cureton, who attended Beatty’s election Wednesday, smiled afterward, saying, “I just commend him for pulling it off.”