South Carolina: legislators could elect themselves directly into judicial office under bill approved in committee yesterday

South Carolina is one of two states (Virginia is the other) where the legislature elects judges. Under existing law (2-19-70(A)) currently serving members of the legislature are prohibited from being considered for election and retired/former members are prohibited from consideration for 1 year after the end of their service. That restriction however could fall under a bill approved by the House Judiciary Committee yesterday.

HB 3979 as introduced on April 14 (text here) and co-sponsored by 91 out of 124 members of the House dealt with the question of the state’s Judicial Merit Selection Commission. Currently the Commission only sends the top 3 names to the legislature for a final vote. Under the bill as introduced all qualified candidates, not just the top 3, would be released by the Commission. This isn’t the first time such a proposal has come up; such proposals have been floated since at least HB 3414/SB 890 of 1999.

What made HB 3979 as amended interesting is what the amendment includes (text here): an exemption to the existing one-year-wait rule if the office being sought is “an at-large judicial office.” In South Carolina, Circuit Judges may be elected by the legislature to “at-large” positions allowing them to serve anywhere in the state. New provisions underlined, repealed provisions stricken.

(A) No A member of the General Assembly may not be elected to a judicial office while he is serving in the General Assembly nor shall that person be elected to a judicial office for a period of one year after he either:

(1) ceases to be a member of the General Assembly; or

(2) fails to file for election to the General Assembly in accordance with Section 7-11-15.

Provided, however, a member of the General Assembly is not ineligible to be elected to an at-large judicial office.

HB 3979 could now go directly to the House floor.