Race for Position on South Carolina Supreme Court Heats Up


State reporter, Aaron Gould Sheinen, reported on Monday, May 21, 2007 that the race for a seat on the state Supreme Court has become “bloody,” according to a state lawmaker.

South Carolina is one of the few states where lawmakers alone pick judges for family court, circuit court, Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court and judicial elections are almost always contentious.

“The process is flawed from the start,” Rep. Mitt Pitts, R-Laurens, said last week. “I’m seeing relationships eroded to the point that I believe it’s going to affect what the body does legislatively for the next few years. The floor is getting bloody..

This year’s Supreme Court race is especially heated for several reasons:

* The winner is likely to become the next chief justice of the court, when present Chief Justice Jean Toal’s term expires in 2014.

* Race and gender are playing an increasingly important role in the judicial selection process. The race has a black man, Don Beatty of Spartanburg; a white woman, Kay Hearn of Conway; and a white man, Bruce Williams of Columbia. All are currently judges on the state’s Court of Appeals.

* There has been speculation that some lawmakers are supporting Beatty in exchange for support from black legislators on future issues.

* As a Democratic state representative, Beatty was instrumental in striking the 1994 deal between black Democrats and white Republicans that led to a redrawing of legislative districts. That redistricting made it easier for blacks to be elected but also drew many more heavily Republican districts. That led to the historic Republican takeover of the House which followed the 1994 elections.

The official screening of potential judges conducted by a state committee of lawmakers, lawyers, professors and lay people, gave Beatty and Hearn top marks, with Williams coming in last.

Ratings by the S.C. Bar Association, however, have Williams far out-distancing Hearn and Beatty.

Lawmakers say it’s too early to tell which judge will win this Wednesday.

Beatty will likely receive the support of the 35-member Legislative Black Caucus. He also has received support from key Republicans, including Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee chairman Harry Cato, R-Greenville, and Rep. Annette Young, R-Dorchester, a powerful member of the Ways and Means Committee.

Cato’s and Young’s actions are confusing to Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-Laurens. He supports Bruce Williams, whom he called the most conservative candidate.

Efforts to reach Beatty and Williams last week were unsuccessful.

Kay Hearn, who is stuck between competing forces, said she feels “very good about the way I’ve run my race. I feel I’ve run an honorable race and that’s all I can do..

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