A new study has found a startling lack of diversity among the nation’s state court judges, and South Carolina sits near the bottom of the pack.
Taking a look at what’s been termed the “Gavel Gap,” the American Constitution Society examined just how well represented women and people of color are among those holding sway over state courts. Out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, South Carolina ranks at 47 when taking into account both the race and gender of judges compared to the state’s overall population. While white men make up only 30 percent of South Carolina residents, this group accounts for more than 70 percent of state court judges, according to the study. By comparison, the study found that only around 12 percent of South Carolina’s state court judges were men or women of color. According to the current roster of Circuit Court judges provided on the South Carolina Judicial Department’s website, 10 of the 59 judges listed are female and even fewer are people of color.
In South Carolina, judges for the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and Circuit Court are selected by members of the state’s Judicial Merit Selection Commission, which consists of 10 members. Of those 10, five are appointed by the speaker of the state House of Representatives, three are appointed by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the remaining two members are selected by the president pro tempore of the state Senate. It is required that six members be serving in the General Assembly, while the other four are selected from the general public.
Those hoping to be selected for a judicial vacancy must apply to the commission and undergo a screening process that includes investigations into their background and an exam on court procedures. Once all candidates are properly vetted, the commission recommends three nominees to each vacancy, and final selections are made by the state legislature.
According to the “Gavel Gap” study, 90 percent of the judicial business in America is decided in state courts. When looking at gender alone, South Carolina ranks in 39th place in terms of female representation among state judges. The state drops to 42nd when comparing just how representative the percentage of judges of color is to the makeup of the state population.
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