Senator Chastises Her Colleagues

For lack of diversity

Patrick Gentry
January 16, 2018 - 2:48 pm

A South Carolina senator chastised her legislative colleagues on the Senate floor last week for what she considers a lack of diversity on the legislative commission that nominates judges.

“Shame on you for not following your own statute which says you have to be fair in the selection of this commission,” State Sen. Margie Bright Matthews, D-Colleton, said Thursday. “Shame on you for not considering minorities. Shame on you for not considering women. Shame on you for not taking care of your constituents.”

Sen. Matthews was upset that the Judicial Merit Selection Commission, whose members are chosen by the legislature, has no female members and that 8 of its 10 commissioners are white men. The Judicial Merit Selection Commission vets candidates for judges and makes critical recommendations on whether a judicial candidate is qualified before legislators make the final decision.

The Speaker of the House appoints five members, three of whom must be legislators. The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman appoints three members and the Senate President Pro Tempore appoints two members. Three of the Senate appointees must be serving members of the General Assembly.

Bright Matthews quoted a line in the law which reads: “In making appointments to the commission, race, gender, national origin, and other demographic factors should be considered to ensure nondiscrimination to the greatest extent possible as to all segments of the population of the State.”

“That’s the law that we have to abide by but yet when that commission was appointed, guess what? There’s not one female on the commission. You owe it to your constituency to makes sure their cases are presided over by diverse judges,” she said. “How do you get that diversity if you don’t have a diverse commission doing the selection?”

“You have 23 women in the House. Not a one was selected,” she said. “All I can say is ‘please.’ That is not right.”

Bright Matthews referenced Circuit Judge Kristi Lea Harrington. Harrington was elected by General Assembly in 2008, but withdrew her reelection bid last year after numerous legislators and attorneys criticized what they considered a “demeaning” and condescending attitude from the bench. However, Harrington was not accused of any misconduct or lack of qualifications.

Bright-Matthews said there was nobody from her area on the commission she could approach .

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