The failure of South Carolina’s Secretary of State to place the official state seal on more than 100 laws does not invalidate them, South Carolina’s top lawyer says.
To overturn the laws would give Secretary of State Mark Hammond a more powerful tool than the governor, who can veto bills but also can have his veto overturned, state Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office said in an opinion released Dec. 1.
It also appears the state constitution allows Hammond to go back and place the seal on the laws at any time, the opinion said.
Hammond’s failure to place the seal on South Carolina laws such as the one removing the Confederate flag from the front of the Statehouse in 2015 or raising the gas tax last year was discovered by state Rep. Joshua Putnam as he researched a possible primary run against fellow Republican Hammond next year.
State law doesn’t specifically delegate placing the seal on new laws to the secretary of state, but that office has traditionally performed the task.
According to the state constitution, “No bill or joint resolution shall have the force of law until it … has had the Great Seal of the State affixed to it, and has been signed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.”
Hammond, who has been secretary of state since 2003, blamed human error for the seal problem and said he will personally ensure all new bills get the seal. He also said he expected hearings and lawsuits, and at least one legal challenge has been filed over the matter.
The opinion from Solicitor General Robert Cook said lawyers have not found any other case in the U.S. invalidating a law for not having the seal attached. But Cook also wrote that it is critical in our government that rules are followed.
“We emphasize again that these constitutional obligations must be followed,” Cook wrote, underlining the final three words.
Opinions from the attorney general’s office are only advisories and do not carry the weight of a judge’s ruling. But Cook said he could not see how a law would be overturned without a seal.
Throwing out a law without the seal “would give the Secretary of State a ‘veto’ power over an Act not even possessed by the Governor under the Constitution, whose veto may be overridden,” Cook wrote.