Potential judges face a grilling from South Carolina lawmakers
COLUMBIA, S.C (WRDW/WAGT) - Starting Monday, more than 80 candidates hoping to become judges in South Carolina are facing pressing questions about how they’d serve on the bench.
That includes the man hoping to become the state’s top judge.
Next spring, the entire General Assembly will elect dozens of the state’s judges.
But before then, candidates go through a screening process described as arduous and expansive to determine who’s qualified and narrow down the field.
That vetting culminates over the next two weeks, as candidates appear before a panel known as the Judicial Merit Selection Commission.
“We are at the end of what is a long process,” said Rep. Micah Caskey, R-Lexington, the committee chairman.
Kicking off that process Monday was the man who will, in all likelihood, be the next chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court – current Justice John Kittredge.
He’s the only candidate for the job – opening up when current Chief Justice Donald Beatty retires next year.
“I have served on every major court in South Carolina,” Kittredge said. “I’m the only person to ever have done so. … So I do believe I have a good sense of what happens on the front lines because I’ve been there, and I’ve experienced it.”
Kittredge took questions about how he’d handle challenges the state’s judicial branch faces, responded to concerns that he’s too conservative, and outlined his judicial philosophy – which he described as one of restraint.
“Judges adjudicate,” he said. “Judges do not legislate.”
This year’s judicial screenings come as calls are growing for South Carolina to change the way it selects judges – with the governor, attorney general, solicitors, and some lawmakers among those urging reform.
- A new House of Representatives committee has been tasked with taking a closer look at judicial reform – and issuing recommendations for the entire Legislature. That committee will meet for the first time Tuesday.
Kittredge – who’s served as a judge in the state for more than three decades – called the current vetting process arduous.
“There are very few complaints against judges in South Carolina. And why is that? I harken back to my original comments to you: It’s the vetting that goes on here,” he said.
But he also says South Carolina’s judicial branch needs more transparency and accountability across the board.
“We can have a wonderful system,” he said. “But if the public doesn’t believe it’s fair, it’s not. Perception is a reality.”
As opposed to most meetings and hearings at the State House – these judicial screening panels are not livestreamed on the internet.
The committee’s chair says that’s because these are essentially job interviews – and they don’t want to give candidates an advantage by being able to watch the questioning of the candidates before them – going for the same job.
But for the first time, these hearings will be recorded and released once all screenings are done.
Copyright 2023 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.