COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Only one person is running to become chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court, and he’s been named to a federal court judgeship — meaning he might not be available to hold the state job.
Don Beatty, currently senior associate justice of the state’s high court, was the only person who submitted the application for chief justice by Monday’s deadline, according to a statement from the Judicial Merit Selection Commission. Some Republicans had sought another candidate.
If elected by the Legislature, Beatty would become South Carolina’s second black chief justice since Reconstruction. However, President Barack Obama nominated Beatty last month to be a federal judge. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Beatty would replace retiring U.S. District Judge Cameron Currie.
State lawmakers are slated to elect a new chief justice May 25 to replace Costa Pleicones, who must retire Dec. 31 after reaching the state’s mandatory retirement age of 72. Federal judges are appointed for life.
In South Carolina, the chief justice’s salary is $151,300, while associate justices make $144,100. Federal district judges make about $200,000.
Traditionally, the senior associate justice is promoted to the top spot. But some Republicans in the Legislature criticize two of Beatty’s opinions as “judicial overreach.”
Associate Justice John Kittredge of Greenville, who’s next in seniority behind Beatty, had also picked up an application for chief justice but decided not to run.
Beatty has been on the state’s high court since 2007. Kittredge joined a year later.
Beatty served five years as a Democrat in the state House before legislators elected him to the circuit court bench in 1995. He was elevated to the Court of Appeals in 2003.
In 1994, Ernest Finney Jr. became South Carolina’s first black chief justice since Reconstruction. He retired in 2000.
The Judicial Merit Selection Commission will begin public hearings April 25 on Beatty and judicial candidates for other court seats.