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.
|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.
|1995/1996||SB 755||5 to 7, one justice per U.S. House district, elected by general public||Died in committee|
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.
|2005/2006||HB 4447 / SB 1096||5 to 7||Died in committtee(s)|
Curiously the 2011/2012 session saw no such bills introduced, the first time in almost 2 decades this was the case.