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State of South Carolina

History of Reform Efforts: South Carolina

Formal Changes Since Inception

1776
All judges (except chancery) elected for life by the general assembly and legislative council.

1778
Judges elected for life by the senate and house of representatives.

1790
Superior court judges elected for life by joint ballot of both houses.

1865
Superior and inferior court judges elected by the general assembly. Superior court judges elected for life; inferior court judges elected to four-year terms.

1868
Terms for supreme court justices set at six years. Terms for circuit court judges set at four years.

1895
Terms of supreme court justices lengthened to eight years.

1911
Terms of supreme court justices lengthened to ten years.

1976
Joint committee to review judicial candidates created.

1979
General assembly creates a court with exclusive appellate jurisdiction of criminal and family court cases.

1984
In the November 1984 general election, voters approve a constitutional amendment making the court of appeals a constitutional court. In January 1985, the voter referendum is ratified by the general assembly, amending the constitution.

1990
Statute prohibits legislative pledges of support for judicial candidates until after the screening process is concluded. South Carolina's judicial selection system had been criticized as a closed process, and this legislation was intended to create a level playing field for all candidates.

1996
In November 1996, South Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment creating a judicial merit selection commission to consider the qualifications and fitness of candidates for all state judgeships. The amendment requires the general assembly to elect one of the nominees submitted by the commission. The general assembly passed legislation to establish the commission in 1997. Current members of the general assembly are prohibited from running for judicial office for one year after ceasing to be a member of the general assembly. Vote swapping, for either judicial votes or votes on legislation, in judicial elections is also prohibited. The creation of the commission was due in large part to the efforts of the South Carolina Bar, which had worked for more than twenty years to institute an independent commission to make recommendations to the legislature regarding judicial candidates. Prior to the creation of the judicial merit selection commission, the general assembly's joint committee to review judicial candidates fielded applications for judicial office and ruled on applicants' qualifications. However, the committee had no authority to remove an applicant's name from consideration. This meant that there was no limit on the number of candidates for any one judicial election, and that candidates who met the formal qualifications, but were not otherwise well-suited for the office, were sometimes elected.