Donald Beatty said Friday that he is focusing on the election to become chief justice of the S.C. Supreme Court, not his nomination to be a federal judge.
Beatty, the senior associate justice on the Supreme Court, was nominated Thursday for a seat on the federal bench by President Barack Obama.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers said John Kittredge, a 59-year-old associate justice on the state’s highest court, is no longer planning to challenge Beatty in the Supreme Court race.
Beatty, 63, said Friday it is an honor to be nominated by Obama to be a federal judge, adding it was an honor to be found qualified for the post by the American Bar Association.
But Beatty said his primary interest is in pursuing the position of chief justice.
Beatty, of Spartanburg, and Kittredge of Greenville, have made formal expressions of interest in running for chief justice, a post elected by legislators. They are the two most senior associate justices on the Supreme Court.
Traditionally, the senior-most justice runs unopposed for chief justice when the chief justice retires. If Kittredge were to oppose Beatty, it would break that long-standing tradition.
But lawmakers say Kittredge is no longer planning to oppose Beatty, a former legislator.
State Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, said that it will not be clear who is running for chief justice until filing closes for the post on March 7. Neither candidate formally had withdrawn from the race Friday morning.
“It’s still up in the air,” said Martin.
Martin said it was his understanding that Kittredge had reconsidered running for chief justice. Kittredge did not want to be part of a contest that could have racial overtones, Martin said.
Concerns have been expressed a Beatty-Kittredge race could be painted as black-white contest, Martin said. If there is an election, it will be about judicial philosophy and respect for the separation-of- powers doctrine, not race, Martin added.
Other legislators also said Kittredge will withdraw from the race.
“Justice Kittredge told me that he does not intend to challenge Justice Beatty for chief justice,” said state Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield.
Calls to Kittredge were not returned Friday afternoon.