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  • Writer's pictureDavid M. Rubin

Assemblyman Robbins likes the Corrupt Way we pick Judges in South Carolina

Updated: Jan 21

It is difficult to imagine a system for selecting judges that is more prone to

corruption than the one in South Carolina. Reforming it will be among the most

important and contentious issues of the 2024 legislative session.


Newbie Republican Assemblyman Robby Robbins, who represents House

District 97, sits on the Judiciary Committee, which will play a key role in drafting

legislation to reform the process. The Committee has been holding hearings for

the past week. A lawyer and former First District Solicitor, Robbins should be

leading the charge for reform.


Not so. Largely invisible in Columbia since he won a special election in May of

2022 (despite a spirited challenge from Democrat ReZsaun Lewis), Robbins

came out of his foxhole last week with a full-throated, ignorant defense of the

status quo.


For those who haven't followed this issue, here is a very brief primer.

South Carolina is one of only two states where the State Legislature elects all

state judges. (Virginia is the other.) The Governor plays no role. The public

plays no role.


A powerful Judicial Merit Selection Committee (JMSC) picks a handful of

candidates for the bench who are submitted to the Legislature for a vote. The

JMSC is dominated by members of the Legislature who also practice law as

their principle profession.


This system produces a very limited pool of candidates for the bench---only

those who satisfy the vague criteria of the secretive JMSC. Even worse, these

same lawyer-legislators who selected these judges then, in their private

practices, argue cases in front of them. If "their" judges make rulings that

displease them, they can maneuver to remove them once their terms expire.

The lesson for judges is obvious: if you want to keep your job, don't upset these

lawyer-legislators.


Both the Charleston Post and Courier and Will Folks's FITSNews have done an

excellent job exposing how judges have been manipulated by lawyer-legislators

to render dangerous rulings that favor their clients. Current First Circuit Solicitor

David Pascoe has been particularly eloquent in framing the problems.


Despite the evidence, Robbins rose in committee to defend the current system.

According to FITSNews, Robbins said there is no problem with the current

system; rather, there is merely a problem with public perception that the system

is corrupt. In other words, the media and the public are at fault.


Robbins, according to FITSNews, then offered a fanciful history lesson on why

the current system is best. He said: "We had tyranny in England, and our

founding fathers as a state recognized that and they put the power in the people.

There are 170 members of the General Assembly that represent the people...and

that is the best way to make sure that the people control the government."


Robbins seems to be referring to the Constitution of 1790, a document written

by wealthy, male, white planters to preserve their power. That Constitution was

replaced in 1895 by a post-Reconstruction document that created an allpowerful

Legislature and a weak Governor and Judiciary so as to keep power

away from Black people, even if they managed to cast votes.


Either Robbins doesn't know the sad history of how white power was restored in

South Carolina after Reconstruction ended, or he approves of it.


Robbins is not the only Republican lawyer-legislator representing parts of

Dorchester County. Chris Murphy and Gil Gatch are also lawyers who benefit

from Legislative control of the judicial selection process.


As the reform effort proceeds, we will be monitoring the votes of all of them.

This will be a key issue for voters when they come up for re-election in

November.


In the meantime, Robbins might want to take a course in Southern legal history.

He would learn something.

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