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South Carolina’s Supreme Court will soon have no Black justices

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — For the first time in nearly two decades, all the justices on South Carolina’s Supreme Court are going to be white.

Diversity on the bench is a big topic in a state where African Americans and Hispanics make up a third of the population. The General Assembly selects the state’s judges, and Black lawmakers briefly walked out of judicial elections five years ago over diversity concerns.

When a new justice is seated after next week’s election, South Carolina will join 18 other states with all-white high courts, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks diversity and other issues in court systems.

Twelve of those states have minority populations of at least 20%, the organization reported.

Circuit Judge Jocelyn Newman was the lone Black candidate for the state Supreme Court seat coming open. The only African American on the high court, Chief Justice Don Beatty, has to leave because he has reached the mandatory retirement age of 72.

But Newman dropped out of the race after candidates could begin asking lawmakers for support. That leaves a white man and a white woman as the two remaining candidates.

Candidates for judges typically don’t campaign or speak publicly in South Carolina outside of hearings in which a panel screens them to see if they are qualified and narrows the number of candidates sent to lawmakers to three.

South Carolina’s Supreme Court already came under scrutiny as the only all-male high court in the U.S. ruled 4-1 last year to uphold the state’s strict abortion ban at around six weeks after conception, before many women know they are pregnant.

That decision came after lawmakers made minor tweaks in the law and the woman who wrote the majority opinion in a 3-2 ruling had to retire because of her age.

“Sometimes it’s nice to look up on that bench and see someone that looks like you,” Associate Justice Kaye Hearn said in an interview with South Carolina ETV after she left the court.

Beatty’s replacement on the bench this summer will be John Kittredge, who was unopposed in his campaign. Kittredge told lawmakers that diversity is critical to the justice system and that only the General Assembly, of which 118 of the 170 members are Republican, can assure that.

“We have a great system. But if it does not reflect the people of South Carolina, we are going to lose the respect and integrity of the public that we serve,” Kittredge said.

Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press


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