For 2 decades SC Senate Dem tried to expand Supreme Court from 5 to 7, now it is a House Republican trying to do the same in 2013

2013 marks the return of a piece of legislation that had been introduced in every legislative session in South Carolina for almost two decades: a constitutional amendment to expand the state’s supreme court from 5 to 7 members. What makes this year different is that it is a Republican member of the majority party introducing the bill in the House (HB 3090), rather than a Democrat member of the minority party in the Senate as had been the case for decades.

First, some background.

Pre-Court of Appeals efforts

The entire Judiciary Article (Article V) was revised under a 1972 amendment. The supreme court was re-established with a membership of 5 : 1 chief justice and 4 associate judges, the same composition it had had for decades. By 1979, however, efforts were underway to expand the court from 5 to as many as 10 judges sitting in panels of 3 or 5. The issue was also wrapped up in the matter of the Court of Appeals, which the legislature had created by statute under its power to create “courts of uniform jurisdiction as may be provided for by general law.” Litigation regarding the constitutionality of the Court of Appeals statute kept the court in limbo until it began operations in September 1, 1983 and was explicitly put into the state’s constitution under a 1985 constitutional amendment.

Session Bill Proposal Status
1979/1980 HB 3297 5 to 9 Approved by House Judiciary Committee
SB 1028 5 to 10, 5-judge panels Approved by Senate Judiciary Committee
1981/1982 HB 2140 / SB 36 5 to 7, 3-judge panels Killed in committee
SB 792 5 to 9 Never taken up
1983/1984 HB 2155 5, but allow legislature in future to increase to 7; explicitly create Court of Appeals in state constitution Killed in committee

Post-Court of Appeals efforts

Over the next decade the issue lay dormant in the legislature; it was not until the 19951996 session the subject came back up. SB 755 would have expanded the supreme court from 5 to 7 and provided the justices be elected by the general public (rather than the legislature itself, as has been the practice since the Revolutionary War), one per U.S. House district.

SB 755 was reintroduced every session for a decade by the same Democratic senator into a chamber that has had a Republican majority since 2001. None of the versions introduced ever made it out of committee.

Session Bill Proposal Status
1995/1996 SB 755 5 to 7, one justice per U.S. House district, elected by general public Died in committee
1997/1998 SB 808
1999/2000 SB 62
2001/2002 SB 85
2003/2004 SB 243
2005/2006 SB 299
2007/2008 SB 34
2009/2010 SB 63

Starting in 2005 the focus on these expansion efforts shifted from attempting to change both judicial selection, election-by-district, and expanding the Supreme Court to simply expanding the court.

Session Bill Proposal Status
2005/2006 HB 4447 / SB 1096 5 to 7 Died in committtee(s)
2007/2008 SB 23
2009/2010 SB 55

Curiously the 2011/2012 session saw no such bills introduced, the first time in almost 2 decades this was the case.

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