COLUMBIA (AP) — South Carolina lawmakers are set to elect nine judges when they reconvene in January.
The selections mark the first time legislators have created new judicial seats in 16 years and are setting up to be the largest and most contested judicial election in almost two decades, according to a story published Sunday by The State newspaper of Columbia.
To relieve the state’s massive backlog of cases, legislators earlier this year created three Circuit Court positions and six Family Court judgeships. The Judicial Merit Selection Commission — a 10-member panel appointed by legislative leaders — vets the candidates for each seat but only can nominate up to three candidates for each position.
Nearly 60 people applied for the positions, and the screening panel has whittled down the selections to 25 finalists.
South Carolina is one of two states where lawmakers elect judges to interpret laws passed by lawmakers.
Some watchdog groups dislike that process. Ashley Landess, executive director of the libertarian South Carolina Policy Council, says it should be up to the governor to nominate judges, who would eventually go up before the state Senate for confirmation.
“Legislators should not be choosing the judges who interpret the laws they pass. It flies in the face of the separation of powers,” said. “I’m not saying the bench is corrupt. I’m saying the system itself is absolutely corruptible.”
But Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester, who chairs the screening panel, says it is impossible to remove politics from government, of which the judiciary is a part.
“It’s always going to be a political process whether it is the governor’s political process, whether it is a popular election or whether it is a legislative political process,” Delleney said. “When all these people talk about taking politics out of government … (really) they want to change it to their brand of politics, whatever their brand might be.”