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State of South Carolina

Judicial Selection in the States: South Carolina

Overview

News

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The South Carolina judiciary is composed of the supreme court, the court of appeals, and the circuit court. There are also numerous trial courts of limited jurisdiction, organized into family, probate, equity, magistrate, and municipal courts. South Carolina is one of only two states whose legislature is responsible for selecting judges.

The legislature has elected South Carolina's judges throughout its history. However, this system came under fire in recent years. The primary criticism raised by the system's detractors was that it promoted "inbreeding." In the mid 1990s, all five supreme court justices and more than half of circuit court judges had served in the general assembly before being elected to the bench. In addition, there was no objective body that evaluated the qualifications of judicial candidates, so that general assembly members had little external guidance in casting their votes.

Efforts to reform South Carolina's judicial selection system gained momentum in 1995, when two former legislators were elected despite "not qualified" ratings from the South Carolina Bar. In 1996, South Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment creating a judicial merit selection commission. The commission considers the qualifications and fitness of candidates for South Carolina courts and submits the names of up to three nominees to the general assembly. The general assembly must elect one of these nominees.