Opinion Extra

SC lawsuit seeks to end taxation without representation

Suspended SC Sen John Courson appears in court for arraignment.
Suspended SC Sen John Courson appears in court for arraignment.

Representative democracy has been the foundation of the American government since 1776, yet both my state senator (John Courson) and my Columbia City Councilman (Moe Baddourah) are currently suspended from office due to criminal charges. I am among 110,000 Senate and 30,000 council constituents who are not represented but still have to pay their taxes.

Forty legislators have been charged with serious crimes since 1977, causing many such suspensions and vacancies.

Cindi Ross Scoppe didn’t mention this constitutional basis of my claim when she described my petition to the state Supreme Court as an attempt to have the court declare for the first time that the South Carolina Constitution and state law authorize the governor to appoint a temporary senator to hold office until the criminal case of Sen. Courson is resolved (“Will an old law be read anew to super-empower SC governors?” June 6). Courson still has 40 months left on his term, and his legal problems may not be ended for many months.

Scoppe argues that if Gov. Carroll Campbell believed the laws I rely on mean what I say they mean, he would have filled the 17 legislative seats emptied during the Lost Trust scandal. I disagree. Campbell’s leadership in response to Lost Trust was ineffective; I believe he simply did not use the power he had.

Article VI, Section 8 of the South Carolina Constitution says the governor can direct prosecution of a state officer who has embezzled or appropriated public or trust funds and “upon indictment by the grand jury … the Governor shall suspend such officer and appoint one in his stead.” Section 8-1-110 of state law says substantially the same.

My argument is that campaign funds amount to trust funds held by the candidate for strictly limited and public purposes and banned from personal use under the 1991 Ethics Act, which I lobbied for during the Lost Trust scandal.

North Carolina and 10 other states authorize their governors to appoint replacement legislators. Scoppe herself notes that the governor of South Carolina already has authority to replace U.S. senators, as happened when Tim Scott was named to replace Jim DeMint.

Gov. Henry McMaster and Attorney General Alan Wilson replied to my lawsuit by saying that they did not oppose my efforts to obtain temporary representation while Courson is suspended. Sen. Courson and Rep. Jim Merrill did not file in opposition either. But the leadership of the House and Senate moved to dismiss the case.

Scoppe argues that it’s unrealistic to believe that the Legislature intended to give the governor appointment power, saying “The idea that the Legislature would allow a mere governor to appoint a legislator, even a temporary one, is simply laughable.”

But the point of my lawsuit is that the framers of the Constitution and the Legislature years ago did authorize the governor to appoint temporary legislators when legislators get into legal trouble. So yes, I am asking the court to apply old laws in a new way. The Legislature retains its authority to verify the qualifications of all appointees.

There is no societal or governmental value served by denying citizens the right to legislative representation. There is no public benefit to the Legislature opposing the governor appointing a temporary replacement legislator to fill in for an indicted legislator.

The people of South Carolina in 2017 have the same right to representation as those who founded the United States in 1776, demanding “No taxation without representation.”

Mr. Crangle is the former director of Common Cause of South Carolina; contact him via jan@franklinscolumbia.com.