COLUMBIA — Two Upstate judges and Appeals Court Chief Judge Kaye G. Hearn of Conway advanced Tuesday in the race to become the next state Supreme Court justice, while the two Charleston-area candidates failed to get the votes.
The Legislature's Judicial Merit Selection Commission screened six candidates competing to fill the seat of Supreme Court Justice James E. Moore of Greenwood, who is scheduled to retire. Ninth Circuit Judge Deadra L. Jefferson and 1st Circuit Judge Diane S. Goodstein were interviewed but not nominated.
After several votes, the commission nominated Hearn, 13th Circuit Judge John C. Few and Appeals Court Judge John W. Kittredge, both of Greenville.
The Legislature will set a date for the election after it reconvenes in January. The selection commission is made up of six legislators and four residents.
Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, a frequent critic of the state's process for selecting its judges, said Tuesday's vote will lead to lopsided representation on the Supreme Court. He said portions of the state, including Charleston, are not represented by the justices on the Supreme Court, and having two of the three candidates from Greenville up for the election won't improve the situation.
"You've got to have a balance to fairly represent South Carolina," said Ford, a member of the selection commission, who voted for Hearn, Goodstein and Jefferson.
Ford continues his decade-long push for the state to move to the popular election of judges, and for the first time he's drafting legislation to add a sixth justice to the high court, rotate the position of chief justice and require that one justice come from each of the six Congressional districts.
Supreme Court justices are elected at-large and not tied to any geographical area.
The last justice from Charleston was Thomas Bussey, who was elected to the Supreme Court in 1961 and retired in 1975.
During Tuesday's meeting, Goodstein, Jefferson and the other applicants each had about 30 minutes to answer questions. Additionally, the commission relies on a review of key personal and professional criteria, a survey of judges and lawyers, examination of the candidate's compliance with ethics laws and potential conflicts of interest.