Three judges made the top tier of final candidates for a vacant S.C. Supreme Court seat and will vie for votes next month in the state General Assembly.
On the heels of Thursday’s announcement by the Judicial Merit Selection Commission, questions arose on the Senate floor about the panel’s questioning of high court candidates during recent screening hearings.
Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, said that commission members did not ask Supreme Court justice candidates about the school equity lawsuit. Martin said he did not want senators to think that commission was trying to elicit a response on a pending matter.
“We did not initiate a discussion about Abbeville,” said Martin, a member of the judicial screening panel.
Concerns about inappropriate questions for candidates for the open Supreme Court seat came up when Martin received a phone call from a judge. The judge, who is not running for an election, told Martin he could not believe the commission had asked the candidates about Abbeville, Martin said.
But that’s not what happened, Martin said. Commission members inquired about separation of powers, the senator said.
In response, John Few, chief judge of the state’s Court of Appeals who became one of the finalists for the open seat, brought up Abbeville and discussed his judicial philosophy, Martin said.
Still, the Abbeville case had been decided by the high court, so commission members could have asked about it, Martin said. However, because legislative leaders planned to ignore the high court’s timetable for school funding and that issue was pending at the time, Martin said he did not feel comfortable bringing up Abbeville.
The commission’s draft report, issued Thursday morning, submitted three candidates to the Legislature after finding them “qualified and nominated” to run for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of former Chief Justice Jean Toal.
A fourth judge, Aphrodite Konduros, was found “qualified but not nominated.” Under the rules, she cannot seek the vacant seat. Konduros, 56, a Greenville resident, is a judge on the S.C. Court of Appeals.
The top three as determined by the screening commission are:
▪ Ralph King “Tripp” Anderson III, 56, a Columbia resident who is currently chief judge of the six-judge S.C. Administrative Law Court.
▪ Few, 52, a Greenville resident and head of of the S.C. Court of Appeals.
▪ Harris Bruce Williams, 59, a Columbia resident and current judge on the appeals court.
The election will be at noon on Feb. 3.