Editorial Roundup: South Carolina

The Index-Journal. January 23, 2023.

Editorial: Life in the left lane

Move it on over. Rock it on over. Move over little dog, the big ole dog is barreling down.

Our state Legislature made it a priority to penalize those slowpokes who take up the left lane of travel on the highways and impede the flow of traffic.

Of course, they are right in that these drivers are a nuisance. Many seem to think the left lane is just as useful as the right lane. For a leisurely Sunday drive, perhaps. Truly, these drivers pose a danger to others and themselves. The left lane is for faster traffic and not for those going at or, most certainly, below the posted speed limit.

They won’t all readily admit it, but our lawmakers were a bit peeved that these left-lane hogs were impeding their ability to zip to Columbia during the legislative session. So, they came up with a law, the “slowpoke” bill, which they passed in 2021.

For a time, it seems, the new law worked. Slowpokes, when caught, could incur a whopping $25 fine not for speeding, but rather for going too dang slow.

Fast forward to the start of the 2023 session and, wouldn’t you know it, one of the first priorities for our lawmakers was not fixing crumbling roads. Instead, they said they noticed slowpokes are starting to drift back into the left lane of travel. The solution? Hike that fine from $25 to $100.

A Senate subcommittee gave it the full throttle and it’s likely speeding its way into law.

We do have to wonder, however, if state troopers will be a bit lenient when it comes to drivers hogging the left lane on Interstate 26 as it is in the throes of a massive overhaul. The lanes zig left, they zig right, the concrete barriers and reflective barrels are downright imposing and scary.

That said, the Legislature might have hit on something. Hike the fine again and you have some dollars that can be poured into make our bridges and highways safer. We’ll gladly take a few bucks over here in Greenwood County where a short span of bridge along Airport Road and crossing Rocky Creek has been shut down to through traffic for more than a year. Maybe it’s in competition with the bridge along Mathis Road in the county. You know, the one that took longer to repair than it took to build the Ravenel Bridge in Charleston.

And yet, our lawmakers are pushing to fund Interstate 73, a largely new construction project, to get our friends from Ohio and West Virginia to our coastal play lands faster. That’s great, but what about our existing roads, lawmakers?


Post and Courier. January 21, 2023.

Editorial: Reform how SC judges are selected, but make it real reform, not political games

It’s possible that the sturm und drang over overhauling South Carolina’s judicial selection process will subside now that the two female candidates for the state Supreme Court have dropped out, as candidates do when it’s clear they don’t have the votes to win.

The uproar arose over the high court’s 3-2 decision invalidating the Legislature’s six-week abortion ban, and some of the most extreme abortion opponents had suggested that it was impossible for a woman to be fair on that issue. With that “problem” gone, they may find it difficult to maintain their dander.

Or perhaps not. Anger has been growing for years over the fact that the Judicial Merit Selection Commission nominates candidates — that is, tells the Legislature who it can and can’t consider — rather than simply finding candidates qualified or unqualified.

But while the motivation of this year’s loudest would-be reformers was entirely inappropriate, South Carolina does in fact need to reform how we select judges.

Contrary to the increasingly popular notion at the Statehouse, the problem isn’t that a commission whittles down the list of candidates to what it considers the three best. Frankly, a nominating process is essential to avoiding a race to the bottom, where court seats are filled based entirely on cronyism, patronage and deal-making — with the result too often being that the least qualified candidates are elected.

Indeed, before the nomination process was created, the Legislature sometimes elected judges who had been found unqualified — because they either had serious ethical problems or demonstrated that they didn’t understand the legal and constitutional issues they would rule on.

The problem with the nominating process is how South Carolina’s version works in practice.

The main complaint from legislators is that the commission makes its decisions in private, which contributes to the perception that something other than merit plays into its nominations. And critics are right about that.

But the solution isn’t to eliminate the nominating process. It’s to eliminate the secrecy and require discussions about judicial candidates to be held in public. And yes, this is a radical idea for South Carolina, but we are talking about the selection of members of what is supposed to be a co-equal branch of government, the branch that sentences criminals, awards civil penalties, often determines which side wins criminal and civil cases and rules on the validity of disputed laws. There’s no legitimate reason for us not to know why some candidates are nominated and others aren’t.

The complaint you won’t hear from legislators is the equally problematic fact that the commission that nominates candidates for election by the Legislature is controlled by legislators, who hold six of the 10 slots on the panel and appoint the four others. This makes a mockery of the idea of separation of powers, because it means that one branch of government appoints another branch, without any input from the third branch.

Add this to the fact that the Legislature sets the budget for the courts and requires judges to come back periodically for reelection (or rejection), and it’s clear that we still have a judicial system that is controlled firmly by the legislative branch whose excesses it’s supposed to check. Meanwhile, our third branch, headed by the governor, is relegated to the sidelines, where he can do nothing more than launch thinly veiled verbal attacks.

Little wonder, then, that lawmakers were so shocked that the Supreme Court would overturn a law that clearly was so important to so many of them. And many shocked lawmakers couldn’t be bothered to read the justices’ opinions and learn that they bore much of the blame, for the careless way they wrote the law.

There should be no legislators on the nominating commission. In fact, legislators shouldn’t even appoint any of its members as long as they elect the judges. Those appointments should be made by the governor, so both of the other branches have a meaningful say in who our judges are.

If legislators want to continue to appoint themselves and others to the nominating commission, then they need to let the governor appoint our judges.