South Carolina’s Supreme Court Joins 18 Other States With All-White Judges

For the first time in roughly 20 years, the Supreme Court in Columbia, South Carolina, will consist of only white judges. This move raises concerns as diversity on the bench continues to be a critical issue, especially in a state where Blacks and Hispanics make up a third of the population.

The selection of judges in each state lies in the hands of the General Assembly. The continued pattern of selecting predominantly white judges has not only raised eyebrows but also prompted Black lawmakers to walk out of judicial elections five years ago due to diversity concerns, according to AP News.

“It’s shameful,” said Democratic Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter. “Whether people like it or not, we have a diverse state. The people who appear before the bench are diverse. The judges they appear before should be diverse.”

Cobb-Hunter, a Black woman, has been South Carolina’s longest-serving representative with 32 years of service. She emphasized the importance of leadership from General Assembly leaders, business and community leaders, and the governor in bringing more diversity back to the court system.

Furthermore, she pointed out that only one Black judge sits on the nine-member Court of Appeals, which is often used as a stepping stone to the high court. She also highlighted that lawmakers chose a white man over a Black woman for the last open seat in April 2024 and that a Black woman has never served on the South Carolina Supreme Court.

“When they talk about women not being elected, I know nine times out of 10 they are talking about white women and not women of color,” said Cobb-Hunter.

This is not the first time South Carolina has faced criticism. Previously, the state had the nation’s only all-male high court. In 2023, the court ruled 4-1 to uphold the state’s strict abortion ban, which prohibits women from terminating a pregnancy around six weeks after conception, a timeframe that is usually before women are aware that they are pregnant.

The decision came shortly after the woman responsible for writing the majority opinion in a 3-2 ruling was due to retire because of her age. When lawmakers made final tweaks to the law, another high court review was prompted.

Following next week’s election in South Carolina, when a new justice is seated, South Carolina will join 18 states with all-white high courts. Of those states, 12 have minority populations of roughly 20%, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

The vacant seat will replace Chief Justice Don Beatty, the only African American on the high court, who must retire now that he has reached the mandatory retirement age of 72. At one time, Circuit Judge Jocelyn Newman was the sole Black candidate running for the state Supreme Court seat; however, she dropped out of the race after candidates started asking lawmakers for support. Now, a white man and a white woman are the only candidates left to fill the position.

“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,” said John Kittredge, who will serve as Beatty’s replacement on the bench this summer.

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