COLUMBIA — Circuit Judge George James, a Citadel graduate, had a clear path to the South Carolina Supreme Court – particularly after all his competition dropped out of the race.

The Legislature named James as the next S.C. Supreme Court justice Wednesday during a joint session of the General Assembly.

"The people of the court have historically been able, intellectual and learned people, and I thought I that I could get in there some day," James said after the ceremony.

The Sumter resident said that within the past few years, he thought he might put his name in consideration to join the state's highest court.

James' two opponents, Circuit Judges Diane Schafer Goodstein of Summerville, and R. Keith Kelly of Moore, withdrew from the running on Monday and Jan. 25, respectively. Despite Wednesday's vote being largely decided, James didn't want to get too confident.

"Like Yogi Berra said, 'It ain't over 'til it's over,'" he said. "But I was confident."

A panel in November initially selected Administrative Law Judge Ralph King Anderson III of Columbia, along with James and Goodstein as qualified for the post. However, after members of the Judicial Merit Selection Committee learned that Anderson had attended a political fundraiser, they replaced him with Kelly in December.

Judges and judicial nominees are prohibited from attending those types of events.

Anderson, who was in the Statehouse on Wednesday, was considered a front-runner for the seat. He was nominated last year to fill the Supreme Court seat that went to Associate Justice John Few. He withdrew from that race about 30 minutes before the Legislature was set to vote.

James will be leaving the Third Judicial Circuit, which covers Sumter, Lee, Clarendon and Williamsburg counties, where he's served since 2006. He received his bachelor's degree from The Citadel in 1982 and graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1985. He worked as an attorney in private practice until his appointment to the bench.

Reach Maya T. Prabhu at 843-509-8933.

Maya T. Prabhu covers the Statehouse from Columbia. She previously covered city government and other topics in South Carolina and Maryland. Maya has a bachelors in English from Spelman College and a masters in journalism from the University of Maryland.