For years, The Nerve has reported on the legislature’s control of the judiciary – specifically regarding the selection of local magistrates. In 2012, The Nerve revealed a loophole in the law which allows magistrates to stay in office indefinitely after their terms expire, giving their county Senate delegations – which could remove the magistrate at any time by simply appointing someone else – even more influence over them. In 2016, The Nerve reported that two magistrates had been in holdover status for 14 years.
More recently, the Nerve revealed that in some counties, magistrate selection is controlled by only one senator, as illustrated this year by the nomination and confirmation of former state Rep. Mike Pitts as a Laurens County magistrate – courtesy of Sen. Danny Verdin, who has sole control over the nomination of all four of Laurens County’s magistrates.
Several of this year’s pre-filed bills seek to tackle the corrupt magistrate-selection process, but all of them would tweak the existing system without truly reforming it. However, one bill – S.925 – is a simple, straightforward approach to judicial selection: a constitutional amendment requiring Supreme Court, Circuit Court and Court of Appeals judges to be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.
These bills display two different approaches to policy: One attempts to make the existing system less bad, though it ultimately would result in more complexity, while the other seeks to reform the selection system. We wouldn’t need bills banning lawmakers from electing former legislators to judgeships or practicing law before magistrates whose appointments they control if they didn’t have power over judicial selection and appointments in the first place.
As this week’s throwback (an analysis of a similar reform bill from two years ago) illustrates, judicial reform isn’t rocket science. The system our Founders put in place at the federal level is simple, straightforward and involves the legislative and executive branches equally – creating a true balance of power where the judiciary is subservient to neither. This system, if enacted in South Carolina, would guarantee judicial independence and reform from the magistrate level all the way to the state Supreme Court,