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SC lawmakers push for judicial reform to curb influence by lawyer-legislators

As South Carolina lawmakers continue discussions about how judges are elected and who should or shouldn’t be a part of that process, some lawmakers are already pushing for changes to eliminate the perception judges are beholden to legislators.

In the lead up to the 2024 legislative session one lawmaker wants lawyer-legislators to recuse themselves during judicial elections, while others wish to remove the limit of how many judicial candidates the General Assembly could consider in an election, and to keep lawmakers’ relatives from seeking the bench.

While some officials in South Carolina are calling for lawyer-legislators to be removed from the Judicial Merit Selection Commission — a 10-member body charged with considering judicial candidates’ qualifications — state Sen. Mia McLeod, I-Richland, pre-filed a bill — S. 871 — that would require all legislators, who actively practice law in the Palmetto State, to recuse themselves from voting in judicial elections, a key function of the General Assembly.

McLeod also sponsored a measure — S. 872 — to remove the three-judicial-candidate cap the JMSC follows when it submits qualified candidates to the General Assembly.

This is not the first time McLeod has offered these bills and she said they’re even more timely now amid an ongoing debate over how much control lawyer-legislators should have in selecting judges.

“The lawyer-legislators are typically the ones who don’t want reform because they don’t want to lose that control,” McLeod said. “They have (control) and they know they have it.”

McLeod added that her colleagues are unwilling to relinquish their control over the judiciary because “it’s hard for the public to prove that they have it.”

In addition to requiring that lawyer-legislators not be permitted to vote in judicial elections, McLeod’s bill, S. 871, aims to limit the potential for discrimination by mandating the JMSC

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