South Carolina’s Supreme Court Soon to Experience Absence of Black Justices for First Time in Two Decades

Diverse group in courtroom

South Carolina’s Supreme Court Soon to Lack Black Justices

Columbia, S.C. – In an alarming progression for diversity in the judiciary, South Carolina’s Supreme Court is set to function without a Black justice for the first time in approximately 20 years. This will result in an all-white Supreme Court in a state where a third of the population is composed of African Americans and Hispanics.

In South Carolina’s General Assembly, which appoints the state’s judges, white jurists have often been favoured, causing outrage among Black lawmakers, who had once exited judicial elections over concerns of diversity.

Winnowing Diversity in Judiciary

Upon the swearing in of a new justice post the imminent election, South Carolina will join 18 other states that have an all-white Supreme Court, according to statistics from the Brennan Center for Justice. The report also reveals that twelve of these states have minority populations comprising at least 20%.

“It’s disheartening. Whether or not it is accepted, our state is diverse; those appearing before the bench reflect this diversity. It is only fair that those sitting on the bench share the same diversity,” Democratic Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter remarked.

Historically, Circuit Judge Jocelyn Newman was the only Black candidate for the state Supreme Court seat due up for election. However, Newman withdrew post the commencement of the support-seeking phase for candidates, leaving two white candidates in the race for the seat.

Scrutiny on the Lack of Diversity

South Carolina’s Supreme Court has previously been subject to criticism for being the only all-male high court in the nation. These five male justices voted 4-1 last year to affirm the state’s rigorous ban on abortion at around six weeks post-conception, a period by which most women are not aware they are pregnant.

Outgoing Chief Justice Don Beatty was the only African American on the high court. Due to state laws mandating retirement at the age of 72, Beatty will be vacating his position. His replacement, John Kittredge, is also white and was elected unopposed.

Future Call for Diversity

Kittredge acknowledged the vital role diversity plays in the justice system and emphasized that only the General Assembly, dominated by 118 Republican members out of a total 170, can guarantee such diversity.

As Cobb-Hunter, a Black woman and the state’s longest-serving representative pointed out, only one Black judge exists on the nine-member Court of Appeals, which is often a stepping stone to the high court. This concern is further supplemented by the point that a white man was chosen over a Black woman for the last open seat in April. There has never been a Black woman on the South Carolina Supreme Court.

“When discussions around the shortage of elected women of color arise, I know they primarily concern white women and not women of color,” Cobb-Hunter stated.

South Carolina's Supreme Court Soon to Experience Absence of Black Justices for First Time in Two Decades

Author: HERE Irmo

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