The recent developments in an ongoing Statehouse corruption probe underscore the need for South Carolina to change the way it chooses judges.
Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen earlier in March rejected a motion by a special prosecutor to reconsider the sentencing of former Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, who pleaded guilty to a charge of misconduct in office. He was subsequently sentenced to probation, community service and a $1,000 fine.
Whether special prosecutor David Pascoe’s allegations of a pattern of misconduct by Quinn are accurate or not is unclear.
But activists have long called for changes to the way the state chooses judges—in most cases through the Legislature. The dynamics of the trial suggest the need for changes, too.
The 10-member Judicial Merit Selection Commission screens judges prior to their election by the General Assembly. Six legislators—appointed by House and Senate leadership—are on the commission.
The state’s manner of judicial selection is legislatively dominated, one of many elements that skew the balance of power away from the executive branch.
If we’re ever going to get closer to achieving a fair system of government, we need to become serious about balancing the power that’s concentrated in the hands of a few powerful lawmakers.
We need in place safeguards against perceived or actual bias when legislators go before the judiciary.