S.C. House GOP leaders have tried to enlist some of the state’s most prominent Republicans into running for Supreme Court chief justice.
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson and U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-Spartanburg, declined to compete against Donald Beatty, the S.C. Supreme Court’s senior associate justice.
Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster and College of Charleston president Glenn McConnell are possible candidates, House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, said Sunday.
But McMaster said Sunday that he had declined to run so he can help the state solve road-repair and economic issues. McConnell, a former Republican Senate president pro tempore, plans to stay in academics, a College of Charleston spokesman said.
GOP lawmakers will continue the search for a candidate for chief justice to compete with Beatty. Traditionally, the senior-most Supreme Court justice — in this case, Beatty — runs unopposed for chief justice.
But some Republican legislators are concerned with Beatty’s views on judicial restraint and separation of powers, said Bannister and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Larry Martin, a Pickens Republican who is on the S.C. Judicial Merit Selection Commission.
Those issues are top of mind with some legislators who are unhappy with the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision on school funding, which ordered the General Assembly to develop a court-supervised solution.
S.C. Supreme Court Associate Justice John Kittredge originally planned to run for the seat. But he has backed off, lawmakers said.
In their search for an alternative, Bannister said lawmakers are talking with former candidates for state Supreme Court and Appeals Court seats, whom he declined to name. “We will continue find the best possible candidate,” Bannister said.
African-American legislative leaders see other motives.
Beatty would be the South Carolina’s second African-American Supreme Court chief justice since Reconstruction. Beatty also has been nominated to become a federal judge by Democratic President Barack Obama, but the 63-year-old jurist from Spartanburg has said he is focusing on becoming the S.C. chief justice.
“We might as well call it like we see we see — it’s being racist,” said state Rep. Carl Anderson, the Georgetown Democrat who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus. “We will fight whatever issues come up. I feel like they should let things take their course.”
Martin said the concerns about Beatty have nothing to do with race or party politics.
“It’s about judicial approach,” Martin said.
Filing for chief justice closes March 7.
In a sign of how hard Republicans are working to find an alternative to Beatty, more than 10 lawmakers and a judge called Wilson late last week about running for chief justice.
“When someone comes to you and says, ‘Hey, would you be willing to run for chief justice?,’ it’s kind of like to me, ‘Hey, do you want to run Microsoft?’ ” Wilson said Sunday. “I have no business running Microsoft, but, sure, I will think about it.”
Wilson, known for a philosophy of strict legal interpretation, said he thought about how he could help reform the court. But after a night of consideration, the Lexington Republican said he decided he was happy to remain the state’s top law official.
“There are a lot of great judges and qualified judges who could run for that position,” said Wilson, a possible candidate for governor in 2018. “They should consider that.”