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Sen. Lindsey Graham pushes for Anderson, Spartanburg federal courthouses to stay open

GREENVILLE — A $105 million federal courthouse will open in Greenville this summer, but U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham doesn’t want one Upstate city's gain to be a loss for its neighbors.

The Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, unbeknownst to Graham or local leaders, decided in 2016 when congressional funding came through for the new Carroll A. Campbell Jr. U.S. Courthouse in Greenville to shutter the courthouses in Anderson and Spartanburg.

A spokeswoman with the Administrative Office told The Post and Courier that consolidating federal court operations into one central location would save taxpayers about $730,000 a year.

The Anderson federal courthouse is named for Judge G. Ross Anderson, who served on the federal bench for the South Carolina District for 36 years. 

He died last week at age 91, the same week state and local leaders in Anderson learned the courthouse bearing his name would close.

These leaders reached out to Graham, and the senator's staff late last week told The Post and Courier he would research the issue.

The fruits of that research came in a letter Wednesday addressed to the two agencies within the judicial and executive branches that control U.S. court facilities and operations. The letter says the federal courtrooms in Spartanburg and Anderson support local economies and provide spillover space for social distancing amid the pandemic.

"The communities of Spartanburg and Anderson — both of which are already suffering from economic downturn brought on by the pandemic — will incur great financial setbacks as a result of the loss of patronage local businesses and restaurants receive by the presence of the Federal courthouses," Graham's letter said.

Anderson and Spartanburg also provide local jail space for almost all federal prisoners in the Upstate.

New federal courthouse in downtown Greenville

The new federal courthouse at the corner of Spring Street and East North Street in downtown Greenville nears completion on December 4, 2020. Eric Connor/Staff

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"The closer proximity of these prisoner housing facilities minimizes risks, as well transportation costs," Graham's letter says.

The city of Anderson this year received $2.2 million from the federal government for prisoner "per diem," a significant portion of the city's $31 million annual budget.

Graham is chairman of the U.S. Senate judiciary committee and has his sights set on picking up the budget committee chairmanship next year. He has a somewhat personal stake in the courthouse issue, having helped steer federal dollars to Greenville for the new courthouse. Meanwhile, one of his oldest legal associates, Tim Cain, is a federal judge whose chambers have been in the Anderson federal courthouse since 2011. Cain lives in Anderson County.

Closing the courthouse named for G. Ross Anderson now would be remarkably bad timing, Anderson-area state Rep. Brian White told The Post and Courier last week.

The letter says the courtrooms in Spartanburg and Anderson provide spillover space for social distancing amid the pandemic, house the Upstate's federal prisoners in local jails (not in Greenville) and support local economies.

“We know that Judge G. Ross Anderson just passed away, too,” White said. “It’s kind of a symbol of Anderson and this area. Especially with someone who has been an icon of the area as Judge Anderson has.”

The Administrative Office's plan calls for Spartanburg’s federal trial-court judge, Donald C. Coggins, Spartanburg’s U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge, and Anderson’s current federal trial-court judge, Cain, to move their offices and court operations to Greenville. 

An appellate judge for the U.S. 4th Circuit would maintain an office at the Donald S. Russell Federal Building in Spartanburg under the plan, but the building would no longer house trials.

The United States has 94 “district” trial courts among the 50 states and territories. The South Carolina District currently has courthouses in Columbia, Charleston, Greenville, Florence, Spartanburg and Anderson. Only Anderson and Spartanburg have just a single federal judge in residence.

The new 193,000-square-foot courthouse in Greenville will have seven courtrooms and enough office space for nine judges when it is finished in August 2021.

Follow Anna B. Mitchell on Twitter at @AnnaBard2U.

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