POLITICS: A Game of Thrones at the State House as chief justice candidates dual to career death

Posted by ANDREW SHAIN on January 26, 2014 

S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal huddles after hours Thursday in the State House lobby with her chief vote counter in the House, Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Dorchester.

JMONK@THESTATE.COM — JMONK MONK

— Nothing quite like seeing the candidates for the state's top judicial job hang out in the State House lobby with lobbyists, journalists and tour groups and ask for votes for the $148,350 post.

The State's John Monk reports on the latest in the race between S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal and Associate Justice Costa Pleicones, which he described as "a combination of poker, chicken and blind man’s bluff:"

It’s historic – not within memory has a sitting chief justice been challenged by an associate justice. Not within memory has a chief justice, like Toal, refused to step aside when approaching the traditional retirement age of 72 and let the next most-senior justice on the five-person court assume the top spot. It’s also historic because Toal is the court’s first female justice, serving as chief since 2000.

The prize in this Game of Thrones? The pledges of support from the 170 members of the House and Senate. Under the state Constitution, lawmakers elect Supreme Court justices and other state judges. The joint-session vote is Feb. 5.

The goal for both Toal and Pleicones these days is to round up pledges of support before that election – so many that finally, the loser will bow out of the race gracefully to avoid the humiliation of being trounced in a public vote. The winner will need 86 pledges. Pledges are gathered in secret by each side, so no one really knows how many pledges the other has.

The tussle is too close to call, most lawmakers say, which is testing ties in State House:

Meanwhile, the race is straining friendships, testing old political alliances and may embarrass lawmakers who go for the loser.

“A lot of senators are terrified of this race,” said Sen. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster. “Some of their professions are tied to it, and others just don’t want to be on the losing side. A lot of people are just sitting on the fence right now waiting on one or the other to get a majority before they commit.”

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