Jean Toal won re-election as chief justice of the S.C. Supreme Court Wednesday by a bipartisan vote of the General Assembly. That outcome reflects her admirable practice of moving beyond party lines both in her work as a jurist and in her dealings with the Legislature.
In addition to giving her two more years as chief judge, the victory gives her more time to focus on digitizing court records statewide, one of her pet projects.
Chief Justice Toal also has supported expanding a special court that handles complicated business cases. In a state that wants to attract sophisticated businesses, an up-to-date, reliable system of justice is crucial.
Mrs. Toal has earned a reputation as an effective and fair jurist, and unseating her would have contradicted the way such elections have gone in the past. A loss by the respected chief justice could have led people to conclude that the election was unduly influenced by politics or friendships.
The State newspaper reported that her challenger, S.C. Supreme Court Justice Costa Pleicones, had the support of most of the prosecutors in the state.
But House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, was an enthusiastic supporter of Mrs. Toal.
She also had strong support from the Legislative Black Caucus. As the first woman to become an associate justice on the S.C. Supreme Court 26 years ago, she is widely seen as a symbol of advances in civil rights and social justice.
Still, each year Justice Toal has appeared before the Legislature to promote her budget requests, presenting arguments that should appeal to legislators of all stripes. For example, she didn't just ask for more judges, she explained the economic and cultural fallout that can occur if the court system is not adequately staffed.
The role of the chief justice is to preside over the state Supreme Court and serve as chief executive officer of the state's $65-million-a-year judicial system, which includes hundreds of judges and magistrates. Justice Toal has earnestly carried out those responsibilities.
She has promised to step down in December 2015 after she turns 72, the state's mandatory retirement age. Mr. Pleicones intends to seek election again at that point.
Both Justice Toal and Justice Pleicones have said they will continue to enjoy a professional and cordial relationship as they do the work of the judiciary.
That speaks well for both of them - and bodes well for our state.
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