“Over the past thirty years, not one of us ever imagined the Attorney General needed authorization from a legislative committee or political body in order to investigate or prosecute alleged criminal behavior by an elected official. Such a restriction would undercut the core Constitutional authority of the Attorney General. And even more importantly, it would violate the fundamental basis of our system of government that all people should be treated equally under the law.”
I wrote previously that the three ex-AGs standing next to Wilson to defend the rule of law made me proud to be from South Carolina. Judge Manning’s ruling makes me want to hang my head.
You may recall that Cindi Scoppe worried earlier that maybe Judge Manning himself came up with the outrageous idea that maybe there was some doubt about whether the attorney general had the authority to investigate crimes allegedly committed by legislators, without special permission.
I respect the idea enunciated Friday by Circuit Judge Casey Manning that, before this case proceeds any further, he wants a thorough examination of subject-matter jurisdiction. That is, he wants to make sure that the State Grand Jury and Attorney General Alan Wilson actually have jurisdiction to investigate this case without the House Ethics Committee asking them to.
But honestly, the idea that they don’t … . Well, it remains too bizarre to even comprehend….
You want to know how out-there an idea it is that the state constitution prohibits the attorney general from investigating legislators without other legislators’ blessing? It’s so out there that even Mr. Harrell’s attorneys didn’t think of raising it.
That’s right. Mr. Harrell has some awfully audacious attorneys… But even they didn’t dream up this crazy theory. They quickly embraced it, of course; they’d be crazy not to. But the idea was not, as so many people had assumed, the brainchild of Bart Daniel and Gedney Howe.
It was, as Judge Manning acknowledged in court on Friday, Judge Manning’s idea.
“Over the past thirty years, not one of us ever imagined the Attorney General needed authorization from a legislative committee or political body in order to investigate or prosecute alleged criminal behavior by an elected official. Such a restriction would undercut the core Constitutional authority of the Attorney General. And even more importantly, it would violate the fundamental basis of our system of government that all people should be treated equally under the law.”
Not one of us ever imagined such a thing.
This is not a close call….
So we all wait with bated breath, while the judge considers something that, given the law, should be beyond consideration. Or at least, it appears so to this layman.
He could probably also use some help explaining to voters his bill, H.4453, which seems designed to help out Speaker Bobby Harrell by making the illegal things he’s been suspected of doing legal.
That bill suddenly started getting acted upon in the House as it became apparent that Harrell’s attempt to secretly toss Attorney General Alan Wilson off his case was doomed to fail.
But that’s just the beginning. You really need to read Cindi Scoppe’s remarkable column today, which tied together a web of House initiatives that seem reminiscent of the way Silvio Berlusconi’s legislative allies kept legislating him out of trouble, by making the illegal legal.
Then, in the most audacious move to date, 85 House members last week filed H.5072, which would empower the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore to appoint a special prosecutor to conduct State Grand Jury investigations into the attorney general and other “constitutional officers.” One of the initial sponsors — Wilson campaign attorney and Democratic Rep. James Smith — said that term also covers legislators, which means it would allow the speaker and president pro tempore to stop any attorney general investigations of legislators.
Of course the bill wouldn’t actually accomplish that because our state constitution names the attorney general as “the chief prosecuting officer of the State with authority to supervise the prosecution of all criminal cases in courts of record.” So the sponsors — led by Kris Crawford, against whom Mr. Wilson’s predecessor, Henry McMaster, brought tax-evasion charges in 2010 — also filed H.5073 to remove that language from the constitution.
If that passed, not only would the speaker and president pro tempore be able to stop any attorney general investigations, or initiate investigations into the attorney general, but the Legislature would be free to strip attorneys general of all power. The House unanimously agreed to bypass the committee process for both measures and place them on the calendar for immediate debate, an extraordinary thing to do for anything other than congratulatory resolutions and local legislation.
Let’s recap: I count five attempts in a year by Mr. Harrell’s friends to intimidate the attorney general or else quash first a SLED investigation and now a Grand Jury investigation. Which seems like a lot for someone who insists he hasn’t committed any crimes — or even violated any non-criminal provisions of the ethics law….
Wow, huh? (The boldface emphasis is mine.)
John Monk did good work recently revealing the move to get Wilson secretly tossed off the case. But this masterful column paints a picture of a pattern far more sweeping, and more disturbing, than that. It’s the kind of thing that reminds us why we have a First Amendment.
I’ve looked at a couple of versions of this story, and have not yet found one that really explains why authorities were initially planning on charging a 9-month-old baby boy with attempted murder and obstructing a public official.
Police have now withdrawn the charges. But before you turn away from this story, be sure to check out the picture of little Musa being fingerprinted. He didn’t like it. He appears to be saying something like, “You flatfoots’ll never pin this on ME!”
You know, the news is full of crazy-sounding stuff happening in this country. But you see something like this, and it all looks a little saner by comparison…
Will a lone South Carolina judge make a secret decision this week in a closed court? The State leads the push for transparency
CHARLESTON, SC — An investigation of one of the most powerful politicians in this state has turned into a key test of how open the courts here are, with media organizations arguing in print and—they hope—in the courtroom that key legal decisions shouldn’t be made behind closed doors. For more than a year, the state’s Republican House Speaker, Bobby Harrell, has been under investigation for possible misuse of campaign funds and abuse of his public office, though Harrell maintains he has done nothing wrong. In January, South Carolina’s Republican Attorney General, Alan Wilson, sent the case to a state grand jury. Wilson’s office would prosecute the case should it end up at trial, and the situation has been prickly for the two Republicans, with Harrell accusing Wilson of trying to damage him politically. The political intrigue blew up into an open-government concern a week ago, when John Monk of The State newspaper in Columbia, citing unnamed sources, reported that Harrell’s attorneys were secretly seeking a closed-door hearing before a state judge to argue that Wilson should be removed as the prosecutor. The substantive argument for disqualifying Wilson was unclear, Monk reported…
Which reminds me that I meant to say last week, when John’s story appeared, that it’s nice to see the paper allow him the time to do what he’s best at. Instead of routine crime stories, and other general assignment-type stuff.
I say that not to be critical of the newspaper. When your staff has shrunk to the size The State‘s has, due to financial pressures beyond editors’ control, you need every hand you’ve got on the routine stuff. And John pulls his weight on the bread-and-butter stories that must get covered each day.
Which makes it particularly great that he was able to find the time to get this story, which reveals an attempt at secret dealing that John said would be “unprecedented.”
Corey quoted press association attorney Jay Bender as saying:
What happens to our democratic society if newspapers go away? Who’s going to be out there asking these crucial questions and trying to push people in public positions to conduct public business in public view?
Where I Stand On Stand Your Ground
Sheriff Scott Israel
I stand with the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis in their fight to amend Stand Your Ground – to grieving mothers who lost their children to senseless gun violence. Last Monday, these two brave mothers-turned-activists led a peaceful march with hundreds of protesters on the Florida state Capitol in Tallahassee. The women were joined by families of other victims of this law.
A bipartisan proposal by Florida State Senators David Simmons (R) and Chris Smith (D) passed the State Senate Judiciary Committee on October 15 by a 7-2 vote, and now heads to other committees for consideration before coming to the Senate floor for a full vote. The original 2005 law was written by none other than Sen. Simmons.
I applaud Sen. Simmons for recognizing that the law is not perfect, and for reaching above partisan politics on this tremendously important public safety issue. The proposed Simmons-Smith amendment makes clear that the statute should prohibit people from later claiming self-defense if they started or unnecessarily escalated a conflict when safe withdrawal outside the home was an option.
Many people have made the case that the George Zimmerman trial, which spurred the interest in revising Stand Your Ground, had nothing to do with the self-defense law.
This opinion is misguided.
In February 2012, when Zimmerman shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, the police who were called to the scene, unable to refute Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense. By law, they were unable to file charges and follow through with normal procedures, thus compromising the investigation from the start. Sanford city officials stated: “By Florida Statute, law enforcement was PROHIBITED from making an arrest based on the facts and circumstances they had at the time.”
The Stand Your Ground law effectively tied the hands of law enforcement in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, and will continue to do so until this law is fixed. In the case of Mr. Zimmerman, the threat was not immediate. He should have been obligated to get in his vehicle, leave the area, and avoid that confrontation. If the law had read differently, maybe he would have.
When Michael Dunn fired nine bullets into a Dodge Durango at four seemingly unarmed teenagers, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis in Jacksonville, Florida, his actions were facilitated by this broken law. Deadly force should never be a first choice; it should be a choice used only after all other reasonable options have been exhausted.
The law is not stagnant. It is open to change, particularly when the change leads to less violent incidents and more accountability.
As one of only a small handful of sheriffs in Florida to support a change in the Stand Your Ground law, I feel the need to be active and vocal in this all-important discussion. Florida was the first of at least 22 other states that have enacted similar Stand Your Ground statutes, so it is also right that we lead in the effort to fix it. More than 26 young people in Florida have already lost their lives in Stand Your Ground cases. This law, here and elsewhere, must be fixed before more needlessly die.
For these reasons, I support these important first steps in amending this valuable law.
OK, technically, it wasn’t the fictional Mrs. Underwood’s plan. It was pushed instead by the real-life Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand — who, as tacky as it may be in the context of talking about sexual crimes (but it’s true), is also a rather striking blonde.
A more relevant coincidence is that her proposal was the very same one that caused the majority whip to stop the Underwood bill on “House of Cards.” To wit, according to The Washington Post:
The Senate rejected a controversial proposal Thursday to remove military commanders from decisions on whether to prosecute major crimes in the ranks as the concerns of Pentagon leaders trumped calls from veterans groups to dramatically overhaul how the Defense Department handles assault and rape cases.
Congress has already voted to revamp the military’s legal system by ending the statute of limitations on assault and rape cases, making it a crime to retaliate against victims who report assaults and requiring the dishonorable discharge or dismissal of anyone convicted of sexual assault or rape.
But on Thursday senators rejected a plan by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) that would go further by taking away from military commanders the power to refer serious crimes to courts-martial. The decision would shift instead to professional military trial lawyers operating outside the chain of command.
The proposal fell five votes short of the 60 votes necessary to clear a procedural hurdle and proceed to a final vote. In a reflection of the complexity of the issue, 10 Democrats voted against Gillibrand’s plan, while 11 Republicans — including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — joined her in voting to proceed….
I think the Senate acted wisely. It moved to toughen the law without undermining the military system of justice. I realize the Underwood/Gillibrand approach has attracted growing support — witness how close it came today. But while I’d like to throw military rapists under the treads of an Abrams tank, I don’t think it’s right to take commanders out of the equation. In other words, I agree with the position taken by the fictional Jackie Sharp, and I really identified with her discomfort when she broke the news to Claire. Although it might have been easier for her, as a woman, to take that position than it would for a man.
I know I, for one, hesitate to voice it. But I thought it would be a copout to mention the issue without doing so….
LEXINGTON, SC — An attorney for the 18-year-old former Lexington High School student accused of stabbing to death a student at a rival school said Thursday his client will seek to invoke South Carolina’s “Stand Your Ground” law and not face murder charges.
At a bond hearing Thursday morning before Circuit Judge William Keesley, attorney Todd Rutherford said Kierin Dennis was in “fear for his life” and a “victim” rather than the aggressor in the death of Dutch Fork High School senior Da’Von Capers on Feb. 17 following a tension-filled high school basketball game between their two schools….
Earlier today, SC State Senator Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) filed S1035, a bill whose objective is to allow doctors in South Carolina to prescribe Cannabidiol (CBD) oil, a non-psychoactive chemical in cannabis, to South Carolina patients who suffer with intractable epilepsy. The following state senators have signed onto S1035 as cosponsors: Ray Cleary (R-Georgetown), Katrina Shealy (R-Lexington), Larry Martin (R-Pickens), Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley), Lee Bright (R-Greenville), and Luke Rankin (R-Horry). A copy of the bill is attached.
Davis said he recently became aware of the therapeutic benefits of CBD oil when one of his constituents, Harriett Hilton, told him about her six-year-old granddaughter, Mary Louise Swing, who resides in Mt. Pleasant. A picture of Mary Louise is attached. “Harriett told me that Mary Louise sometimes suffers up to 100 epileptic seizures an hour,” Davis said, “and that none of the drugs prescribed by her doctors at the MUSC Epilepsy Center has provided relief. Harriett also told me that Mary Louise’s caregivers at MUSC believe CBD might help, but that the law prevents them from prescribing it to her. That is morally wrong, and the purpose of S1035 is to jumpstart a process to remove those legal barriers.”
Scientific and clinical studies have confirmed CBD’s potential as an effective treatment for those with intractable epilepsy. Accordingly, last fall the federal Food and Drug Administration green-lighted clinical studies of CBD as an anti-seizure medication at two research universities in New York and San Francisco. The drug — manufactured by GW Pharmaceuticals, called “Epidiolex™,” and in the form of a liquid that is administered orally with a syringe dropper – is currently being prescribed by doctors to patients with intractable epilepsy at the NYU School of Medicine and at University of California at San Francisco.
“The doctors and medical research facilities at MUSC are every bit as good as those in New York and San Francisco,” Davis said. “I want to legally empower MUSC and its epileptologists to prescribe CBD oil to those with intractable epilepsy like Mary Louise, and S1035 outlines the critical path to making that happen.”
S1035 would revise a South Carolina law passed in 1980 titled “The Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act of 1980,” which authorized DHEC to engage in clinical studies regarding certain medical therapeutic uses of marijuana. That 1980 law has never been funded and has lain dormant, and Davis says it’s time to breathe life into it. “I realize that federal law still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance,” said Davis. “But as the FDA itself has acknowledged, it makes no sense to ban CBD oil, a non-psychoactive chemical derived from cannabis. You can’t get high on it and it has no street value, and it makes zero sense to legally prohibit doctors from prescribing something that would relieve their patients’ suffering.”
Of all the legalization arguments I’ve heard and seen, this one makes the most sense.
The badly overcrowded San Quentin Prison in California.
Federal Judge Michael A. Ponsor, celebrating the fact that the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has reported out the “Smarter Sentencing Act,” laments all the years that he was forced to put away prisoners for long terms that they are still serving, even though in recent years Congress and the courts have thought better of those mandatory minimum sentences:
In 1984, at the start of my career, 188 people were imprisoned for every 100,000 inhabitants of the United States. Other Western industrialized countries had roughly equal numbers. By 2010 that figure had skyrocketed to 497 people imprisoned in the U.S. for every 100,000 inhabitants. Today, we imprison more of our people than any other country in the world.
How did “the land of the free and the home of the brave” become the world’s biggest prison ward? The U.S. now houses 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners. Either our fellow Americans are far more dangerous than the citizens of any other country, or something is seriously out of whack in the criminal-justice system.
The capricious evolution of federal sentencing law makes the moral implications of this mass incarceration especially appalling. In 1987, all federal sentencing became subject to sentencing guidelines designed to smooth out disparities among sentences of different judges. This move was not in itself a bad thing; sentences for similarly situated offenders obviously ought to be roughly the same. The problem was that the appellate courts interpreted these guidelines so rigidly that judges like me were often forced to ignore individual circumstances and hit defendants with excessive—sometimes grossly excessive—sentences….
Now, his sleep is haunted by all of those people who are still imprisoned, and he can do nothing to free them from the unjust sentences to which he condemned them.
I’ve said it before — I see little point in locking up people who have not demonstrated that they pose a physical danger. Unless, of course, they have repeatedly refused to cooperate with more sensible punishments — restrictive paroles, payment of restitution, community service and the like.
Had I been forced for decades to impose the sentences this judge has, I’d likely be sleepless, too.
And I congratulate South Carolina, because it has just renewed its lease on one of the finest legal minds I’ve encountered in my time in my decades of observing the public sphere in my home state.
Which is not to denigrate Costa Pleicones, who mounted such a creditable challenge to her bid for re-election. He would have been, and still may one day be, a fine chief justice. In the meantime, we are fortunate to have his continued service as an associate justice. Based on everything I’ve ever seen or heard, he would have been my first choice to head the court if we could no longer have Jean Toal in that post.
This way, we don’t have to be deprived on any count. We continue to have the service of two people who are superbly suited to their positions.
It’s weird how this happens sometimes in South Carolina. Too often, elections are about choosing the lesser of two weevils, as Jack Aubrey would have said had he ever actually existed.
But from time to time, we’re offered a choice between two candidates so strong that you hate to have to reject one — you wish we had a way of spreading that wealth around. Some legislative districts seem unfairly blessed in this way. An example of the kind of election I’m talking about was when Anton Gunn challenged Bill Cotty back in 2006. Forced to choose, we endorsed Cotty, but then I was pleased to see Gunn run again and win two years later. (And sorry to see him leave his House seat.)
I’m glad we didn’t have to turn away either of these two candidates.
Today, I offer you two views of the new bill to allow patrons to carry firearms into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. There’s Cindi Scoppe’s “Armed, untrained and cruising the bars.” (And I’m not at all convinced she was unaware of the double entendre implication of “cruising,” just to take it to an unexpected level.) Excerpt:
YOU’RE IN A bar in the early morning hours, and there’s a guy across the room who’s drinking heavily, who keeps glaring at you. It’s more than a little unsettling, because you know South Carolina now allows concealed-weapons-permit holders to carry guns into bars. You also know that the Legislature watered down the training requirements when it passed the guns-in-bars provision. And you know that South Carolina has an extremely liberal stand-your-ground law, which allows you to use lethal force if you feel threatened.
So when the drunk across the room suddenly reaches inside his jacket, you pull your own pistol and shoot.
Only you’re not the best aim, so you hit his companion.
And it turns out that he was reaching for his ringing cell phone.
That scenario was described to me a year ago by a Republican senator who was troubled by the obsession of some of his colleagues with lifting the state’s restriction on carrying concealed weapons into establishments that sell alcohol. Clearly, his scenario won’t play out every day once the guns-in-bars legislation becomes law. (The bill still must be signed by the governor, and she can’t do that until a ratification session, which can’t happen until at least next week because the Legislature is taking the week off due to the possibility of snow.) It won’t happen every month, and probably not every year. But it’s not much of a stretch to imagine it could happen once or twice….
And then there’s our own Bryan Caskey, who seems to have hit his stride as a blogger with this topic, combining his knowledge of the law and his love and respect for guns (and rifles, too, I assume). He reports via email:
On Friday I got my post up about the CWP bill, and boy, did it take off, traffic-wise. I normally get a couple hundred hits on my whole blog during an active day, but my CWP bill post got over 300 hits alone…and counting. What’s more amazing to me is that the post has received 51 “likes” via the Facebook button. I think my record for “likes” on a post is maybe 2. For my blog to penetrate to Facebook, someone else has to pick it up, since I don’t use Facebook.
Pageviews is one thing, but having someone hit that “like” button on Facebook is different – it requires actual clicking interaction from the reader than simply doing nothing. Anyway, just thought I’d pass that along and toot my own horn a little.
As always, feel free to link or disregard.
And of course, I prefer to link. Good for Bryan. Basically, he was dissatisfied with reporting on the bill itself, and decided to provide a detailed, dispassionate analysis. He did so quite well. Just as he says he learned a good deal from the 8-hour CWP course that would no longer be required under this bill (which he thinks is a bad thing about the bill), I learned a good bit from his post.
He saw good and bad in the bill — but neither as much good as most gun lovers would like, nor as much bad as those of us who say, Yeah, that’s just what was missing in SC — a new law saying its OK to pack heat in bars (people like Cindi, and to some extent me) — think.
Here’s the weirdest aspect, to me. After explaining that the bill would still allow bar and restaurant owners to declare their establishments gun-free zones by posting signs, Bryan adds this:
Additionally, even if the bar or restaurant doesn’t post the sign, they can still request that any particular person carrying concealed leave on a case-by-case basis. If that person refuses to leave, same penalty as above. So if you’re a bar or restaurant, you can either chose to have an entirely gun free zone, or a selectively gun free zone….
Yeahhhh… I’m just trying to imagine a bar owner with the cojones to carry that off. Think about it — the only time a proprietor might intervene in such a manner is when there’s a tense situation, right? You know, the kind where he goes, “Well, normally I’d allow guns (hence no sign), but THIS guy’s worrying me right now…” The guy’s packing heat, he’s apparently losing it, and you’re going to change the rules on him now? If Gary Cooper, or better yet Wyatt Earp, came back to life and opened a bar in Five Points, maybe. But I don’t know who else would manage that.
Anyway, Bryan’s post is helpful and informative. I recommend it. And he now has 86 “likes” on Facebook.
Yes, I said, “celebrating.” As in, “Yippee!,” as opposed to what I usually hear about it, which is more in the Egon Spengler range, as in, “Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.”
For Release: January 21, 2014
ALEXANDRIA, VA – Today the Center for Competitive Politics marked the fourth anniversary of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling by releasing a video about the decision by noted YouTube artist GoRemy.
The video examines five common misconceptions about the Citizens United that many critics of the decision tend to gloss over, such as the government’s argument that they should be able to ban books and that the decision did not create the concept of corporate personhood.
What the Citizens United decision did do was overturn blatantly unconstitutional parts of a law designed to prevent freedom of association among individuals with the purpose of speaking out about politics. And, despite repeated assertions that the decision would lead to the corporate takeover of our democracy, we’ve had some of the most competitive elections in our nation’s history.
At its core, Citizens United was about whether the government could ban a nonprofit corporation from distributing a movie about a political candidate. The decision did not “reversed a century of law to open the floodgates – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections,” as President Obama famously chastised the Supreme Court. Rather, the decision allowed organizations to do what wealthy individuals have always been able to do: make independent expenditures advocating for or against a chosen candidate.
Now why am I posting this? Because I agree with it, or because I wish to rip into it? Neither. Basically, it attracted my attention because on the thumbnail for the video, I saw the very same mug shot of Nick Offerman in the role of Ron Swanson on “Parks and Recreation” that one of y’all — I want to say Silence Dogood — used to use as an avatar. So I thought at least one of y’all would enjoy it on that basis. Yes, I know that’s a thin premise, even though I cannot measure how thin it is.
I decided to go ahead and post it after seeing it, because I was intrigued by — whatever you think of the message — how slick it was.
Starting with the choice of pitchman, who I am told is “noted YouTube artist GoRemy.” OK, whatever. I’m just impressed by how well-chosen he was to make people think more kindly of the idea of corporations being people and such.
If you have an “Occupy Wall Street” picture in your head of the people who celebrate Citizens United, then you expect the spokesman to be somebody like Robert Stack, or Charlton Heston, or Peter Graves, or some other old, dead, establishment-looking white guy. (You may object that a dead guy couldn’t shoot a video, but we’re not talking about reality; we’re talking about the way Occupy Wall Street sees the world.)
This guy is like the opposite of that, only in a cool way, so you’re not beaten over the head with it.
Perhaps a little too glib. I have to say I was a bit offended at having the Plessy vs. Ferguson case dismissed with a funny picture of a baby with a perplexed expression and the caption, “WHO VS. WHATNOW?”
Or at least, I would have been, if it hadn’t all gone by so quickly that I had to back it up and freeze frames in order to see what the baby was supposedly saying.
The point of the video is to make your brain dance lightly along to the tune of the fun wordplay, and then wander away humming to itself and thinking, “That Citizens United isn’t so bad after all…”
My son shared this with me, knowing the sort of thing that makes me all indignant. Note that neither officials nor the announcer paid any attention when this player moved one foot or the other seven times, without dribbling.
Well, what are we to expect? We long ago stopped enforcing basic rules of the game “Shooter” regarded as “the greatest game ever invented.” Is it any wonder the world is in such sorry shape?…
WASHINGTON — A federal judge in New York on Friday ruled that the National Security Agency’s program that is systematically keeping phone records of all Americans is lawful, creating a conflict among lower courts and increasing the likelihood that the issue will be resolved by the Supreme Court….
Judge Pauley said that protections under the Fourth Amendment do not apply to records held by third parties, like phone companies.
“This blunt tool only works because it collects everything,” Judge Pauley said in the ruling…
… we’ll hear Greenwald saying, “OK, we were totally wrong.”
Someone was praising Cindi Scoppe’s column today on the contested election for chief justice of the SC Supreme Court, and I agreed: “Yes — Cindi’s probably the only journalist in SC who knows enough even to have the idea of writing it.”
You may be disappointed after that buildup to find that there’s no hard-hitting, simple editorial point in the piece, and she certainly doesn’t take sides between incumbent Jean Toal and challenger Costa Pleicones. The overall point is to lament the system we have for picking justices, and the lack of transparency in it after that one, brief, qualification hearing — which everyone knew that both of these exceptional jurists would pass with flying colors.
What she does is provide perspective on the court and its place in our, um, unusual system in South Carolina.The piece should be required reading for legislators, who will be the voters in this particular election.
The piece does a number of things. First, she explains that this is yet another chapter in Jean Toal’s precedent-breaking career, and I don’t (and she doesn’t) mean that in the facile sense of trailblazer for women, yadda-yadda:
But things never have been normal where Jean Toal is involved, and by that I’m not referring to the fact that she was South Carolina’s first female justice and chief justice.
In 1988, she became the first non-judge elected to the high court in more than three decades. That happened after ethics questions derailed the candidacy of Circuit Judge Rodney Peeples, who entered the race with more than enough votes sewed up to win.
Eight years later, Mrs. Toal became the first sitting justice since 1893 to be opposed for re-election, when Circuit Judge Tom Ervin challenged her amidst anti-tax groups’ absurd efforts to paint her as a liberal; her support was so overwhelming that he dropped out of the race less than two hours after legislators were allowed to start making commitments.
Now she’s the first chief justice since at least the 1800s to be opposed for re-election…
Clearly, the Legislature will break precedent if it elects Mr. Pleicones. But even if it re-elects Mrs. Toal, the status quo already has been interrupted, making it much easier for lawmakers to break with tradition and skip over Mr. Pleicones and, who knows, perhaps skip over Mr. Beatty, possibly even select a chief justice who isn’t on the court….
In future SC history books, there will likely be quite a few footnotes devoted to Jean Toal.
As I said, while this piece may be interesting to other readers, it should particularly be read by lawmakers. Cindi takes it on herself a lot to put things into perspective for legislators. Someone needs to.
One key thing she explains — and these days we have more and more lawmakers who need this explained — is that there are important issues at stake here, but they have nothing to do with notions of left and right, Democrat and Republican, the way those things are force-fed to us today out of the Beltway:
Some Republicans in the Legislature — and lots outside, particularly of what we now call the tea-party variety — have been grumbling for years about having a court full of former Democratic legislators.
I suppose it’s understandable that people would be confused about the role that partisan politics plays on the S.C. Supreme Court — none — given the diet of hyperpartisan Washington politics on which a frightening number of South Carolinians feed, forming not only their world views but their state views.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court is in fact composed of two well-defined ideologies, you’d be hard-pressed reading state Supreme Court decisions to guess the partisan or ideological inclinations of the justices. So I was a little disappointed when Justice Toal, asked about complaints that she’s too “political,” dismissed them by noting how well she has gotten along with the Legislature and governors, even as their politics have changed.
The political temptation Supreme Court justices face has nothing to do with party or ideology. It is the temptation to kowtow to the Legislature, whatever the Legislature’s partisan leanings or political philosophy. It’s to look the other way when the Legislature tramples on our state constitution. It’s to pretend that the laws say what the Legislature meant them to say rather than what they actually say.
That temptation must be greatest for the chief justice, whose dual role as chief executive officer of the entire judicial branch of government brings with it the heavy burden of convincing the Legislature to fund the courts adequately, and keeping lawmakers from exacting retribution, financial or otherwise, when court decisions go a way they don’t like…
It is for this reason that Cindi laments that “Justice Toal, asked about complaints that she’s too ‘political,’ dismissed them by noting how well she has gotten along with the Legislature and governors, even as their politics have changed.”
And of course, in SC, things get very personal, as Cindi suggests in suggesting an apparent reason why Associate Justice Pleicones is making this extraordinary challenge to his old friend:
… one of the themes of criticism that Justice Toal received in anonymous surveys from lawyers stemmed from what Justice Pleicones has called her broken promise to retire when her term ends next year, which would give him an extra year and a half as chief justice….
In the end, the main concern expressed is that from here on, we won’t know what these candidates are saying to individual electors: “For the mind reels at where even the most honest and well-intentioned justices might be tempted to go when they meet behind closed doors with legislators who have votes to provide them — and requests to make of them.”
Cindi doesn’t mean to besmirch either candidate. She notes in particular how Jean Toal’s tenure has been characterized by a “steady move toward judicial independence, toward calling out the Legislature when it needs to be called out.”
But moments such as this create enormous potential for undermining that kind of essential independence. And that is indeed disturbing.
The mayor, (rightly) injecting some politics into policing in Five Points, back in September 2012.
I thought this was an interesting thing for a major running for re-election to do. He sent out a release weighing in on a controversial recent arrest by the city’s police department:
Keep Politics Out of Policing
July 24, 2013, Columbia, SC
As you know, public safety has and continues to be my top priority in the City of Columbia and, while we’ve made real progress over the past several years, a number of recent high-profile incidents have further demonstrated the need for continued focus and action.
It is for that reason and because we must ensure the public’s trust in our police department, that last week I called for a SLED investigation into claims made against the Columbia Police Department and I firmly believe that we must allow that investigation to proceed without any political interference. Our state’s law enforcement officers are very capable of conducting a thorough investigation. I am confident that they will perform their duties objectively and comprehensively and provide us with a full report to act upon. Furthermore I will make absolutely certain that whatever SLED reports will be transparent and fully disclosed to the public.
Let me be clear: I have no tolerance for corruption of any kind and if there is any wrongdoing found as a result of SLED’s investigation, I will push for any wrongdoers to be immediately fired and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
It is extremely important that we remove politics from this equation. We must let the cops do their jobs without interference. That is a key concern of mine with this investigation as well as with the issue of Dr. Lonnie Randolph’s arrest in Five Points.
Out of concern for Dr. Randolph and out of concern for our criminal justice system, I am strongly recommending Dr. Randolph’s charges not be dropped before the case reaches the courtroom.
Dr. Randolph appears to have a medical condition that influences his behavior beyond his control and, if so, he has my deepest concerns and sympathies. But we must let the legal process unfold like it does for any other citizen. It is up to a judge or a jury, with the victims’ input, to decide the end result, not politicians, police chiefs or administrators.
Dr. Randolph’s arrest demonstrated why we should not have administrators or elected officials showing up at crime scenes unless specifically requested by law enforcement. However well intentioned, it can send the wrong message and can create an appearance of impropriety and it needs to stop now. People must know that the criminal justice system works the same for all of us and does so without political interference and without special treatment for anyone. Justice for all requires special favors for none.
That’s why I’ve asked city legal counsel to draft a policy which I will present at our next City Council meeting clearly stating that, in accordance with our ethics policy, an active crime scene is no place for politicians or administrators.
At that same meeting, I will also push for us to move forward with a comprehensive, nationwide search for a permanent Police Chief. It’s time to bring stability to CPD’s leadership.
I believe a lot of these issues would be easy to resolve if, in fact, the Mayor had the authority to resolve them.
As Mayor, I have used the bully pulpit provided this office to push for much needed change and often been successful in doing so. That’s how we passed our local preference policy and kept tens of millions of dollars in city contracts with local businesses, that’s how we got the Bull Street deal done and that’s how we’ve achieved the rebirth of downtown securing roughly $300 million in new capital investment over the past two years alone.
But it’s important to understand that I have very little administrative authority under our current form of government. Here in Columbia, the Mayor does not supervise city staff, the City Manager or the Police Chief. And when we are faced with challenges like these which require swift and decisive action, all I have is one of seven votes on City Council and the long slow process that goes with it. That is the simple fact of our system, a fact that we need to change.
That being said, I will continue to use those tools afforded me to keep pushing for a safer and more secure Columbia. That is my priority, it is the people’s priority and nothing is more important.
As always, thank you for keeping informed, getting involved and making a difference in our city.
Yours in service,
City of Columbia, South Carolina
This may seem kind of weird to those who don’t understand the city’s council/manager system of government.
In a more logical and politically accountable system of government, the mayor wouldn’t be a helpless witness to the actions of the city’s administrators. He wouldn’t have to propose policy changes to be voted upon by the whole council; he could just tell his manager (or chief of staff, or whatever his senior appointed subordinate was called) not to do that anymore.
Contrary to the mayor’s headline, I think we need more politics in policing, in the sense that the department should report to an official elected by the people of the city, rather than to an unelected person who, since she has seven bosses, really answers to no one.
Anyway, I thought it interesting that the mayor chose to speak out in this manner.
The remarks, delivered without a teleprompter, were a striking example of America’s first black president seeking to guide the country’s thinking on race without inflaming racial tensions or undermining the judicial system.
He managed to do that, and he did it just right. While the topic was a sensitive as all get-out, the president didn’t make a big deal of it. He wasn’t making a pronouncement, or proposing policy. He wasn’t speechifying at all. He started out by lowering the temperature, reducing expectations, making the whole thing as casual as possible without making light of it. It came across this way:
This isn’t really a press conference — we’ll have one of those later. Today, I’m just this guy, talking to you, sharing a few thoughts that I hope will help help black and white people understand each other a little. Not that I’m some oracle or something, I just have some life experiences — just as we all have life experiences — that might be relevant to share…
It was the president using the bully pulpit, only without the bully part. No-drama Obama. Just talking, not speechifying. Thought, not emotion, even though some of the thoughts were about deep, visceral feelings, and the way people act as a result of them. Just, “I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit…”
He had said earlier, on the dispassionate level — what needed to be said: The jury has spoken, and that’s that. He repeated that (read the whole speech here):
The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed that in a — in a case such as this, reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict. And once the jury’s spoken, that’s how our system works.
Going beyond that, he downplayed any expectations that his administration would somehow take up the cudgels against Zimmerman as a way of undoing that verdict:
I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it’s important for people to have some clear expectations here. Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government — the criminal code. And law enforcement has traditionally done it at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels…
This speech Friday was about trying to explore, just as calmly, the emotional reaction that causes such dissatisfaction with the verdict, appropriate as it may have been given the case:
But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling. You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African-American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.
In other words, look, a lot of white folks don’t understand why a lot of black folks react to this thing the way they do, and here’s my take on that:
There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.
And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.
And you know, I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.
Furthermore, a lot of whites may be laboring under the impression that black folks are blind to the fact that young, black men are statistically more liable to be dangerous, especially to each other:
Now, this isn’t to say that the African-American community is naïve about the fact that African-American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, that they are disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It’s not to make excuses for that fact, although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context…
I think the African-American community is also not naïve in understanding that statistically somebody like Trayvon Martin was probably statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else.
So — so folks understand the challenges that exist for African-American boys, but they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it or — and that context is being denied. And — and that all contributes, I think, to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different…
Oh, and in case you think he had some pompous, trite notion of launching something so grand as a “national conversation on race,” he deflated that:
You know, there have been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.
On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s a possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can; am I judging people, as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.
Again, and again, his manner, his verbal cues, kept the intensity on the down-low: “watching the debate over the course of the last week I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit… And you know, I don’t want to exaggerate this, but…” Throughout, he interjected the phrase “I think,” to make sure you knew he was just this guy talking, and not The Man, speaking ex cathedra.
Another thing that a lot of whites say about blacks is that they “talk about race all the time.” Well, Barack Obama certainly has not. He’s been the president, not the black president. But it’s a fine thing for America that when he does, on rare occasion, decide that OK, in this situation, maybe he should say something about the topic, he does it so deftly, so thoughtfully, so well.
Barack Obama, like any other presidents, has his strengths as well as weaknesses. Some of his strengths were on display Friday.
Here’s something for you lawyers out there, or you martial artists, or somebody.
I attended the University of South Carolina for exactly one semester, the fall of 1971. On top of my regular classes, I took a free short course in the evenings, not for credit.
It was karate. A friend from the Pee Dee and I took it, and we probably spent more time practicing our moves outside of class than we did studying for any of our academic classes. Or at least, I did. (We never hit a dorm elevator button with our fingers — we always used our feet.) One night, we staged a huge sparring match in the hallway of Bates House, and drew quite a crowd. We were really over the top, leaping into the air, kicking, and generally pretending to be Billy Jack, since that movie was huge that fall.
Amazingly, none of the guys watching us cracked up laughing. I think we actually fooled some of them into thinking we knew what we were doing.
Anyway, the guy who taught the classes — I remember his name as being John Bull Roper, which I thought was a great name for a black belt — used to tell us that in South Carolina, there was something called a “run-to-the-wall” clause in the law.
What that meant, he said, was that if you were an expert at killing with your hands and feet, as we believed him to be, you had to do everything you could to avoid a fight. You had to “run to the wall,” and only when there was nowhere else to retreat to could you defend yourself with your skills.