South Carolina BAR Journal
SC Lawyer, November 2012, #4.
A Snapshot of the SouthCarolina Court System
South Carolina LawyerNovember 2012A Snapshot of the SouthCarolina Court SystemBy Karen L. HuelsonThe S.C. Constitution provides the state's "judicial power shall be vested in a unified judicial system, which shall include a Supreme Court, a Court of Appeals, a Circuit Court, and such other courts of uniform jurisdiction as may be provided for by general law." S.C. Const. art. V, 1. The following are identified as courts of justice in this state: (1) the Supreme Court; (2) the Court of Appeals; (3) the circuit courts, including (a) a Court of Common Pleas, and (b) a Court of General Sessions; (4) the probate courts; (5) the family courts; (6) magistrates' courts; and (7) municipal courts. S.C. Code Ann. 14-1-70 (Supp. 2011). Individuals running for justice of the Supreme Court, as well as other judgeships filled by election of the General Assembly, must be nominated by the Judicial Merit Selection Commission. S.C. Const. art. V, 27.
I. Supreme Court of S.C.
The S.C. Appellate Court Rules (SCACR), which were adopted September 1, 1990, specify the procedures for appeals, petitions and motions before the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. They also contain rules governing the conduct, discipline, continuing legal education and other obligations of attorneys and judges in South Carolina, as well as the admission of attorneys to the practice of law. Rule 101(a), SCACR (Scope and Title).
The Supreme Court consists of a Chief Justice and four Associate Justices, any three of whom shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business. The Chief Justice shall preside, and in the Chief Justice's absence, the senior Associate Justice shall preside. In all cases, the concurrence of three of the Justices is necessary for a reversal of the judgment below. S.C. Const. art. V, 2; see also S.C. Code Ann. 14-3-90 (1976) (providing three justices constitute a quorum); S.C. Code Ann. 14-3-360 (1976) (requiring the concurrence of three justices for reversal).
Justices are elected by the S.C. General Assembly for staggered, 10-year terms, so that a term ends every two years. S.C. Const. art. V, 3; S.C. Code Ann. 14-3-10 (1976). The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is the administrative head of the unified judicial system. S.C. Const. art. V, 4; S.C. Code Ann. 14-1-90
(1976). There is no prohibition on multiple terms, but there is a mandatory retirement age of 72 for state trial and appellate court judges in South Carolina. See S.C. Code Ann. 9-8-40, 9-8-60 (Supp. 2011).
To be eligible for the office of justice of the Supreme Court (or judge of the Court of Appeals or the circuit court), a person must, at the time of election, be a citizen of the United States and this state, have attained the age of 32 years, have been a licensed attorney for at least eight years, and have been a resident of South Carolina for five years next preceding the individual's election. S.C. Const. art. V, 15.
1. Original jurisdiction and extraordinary writs
The Supreme Court has the power to issue writs or orders of injunction, mandamus, quo warranto, prohibition, certiorari, habeas corpus, and other remedial and original writs. S.C. Const. art. V, 5; S.C. Code Ann. 14-3-310 (1976); see also Rule 245(a), SCACR (providing "[t]he Supreme Court will not entertain matters in its original jurisdiction when the matter can be determined in a lower court in the first instance, without material prejudice to the rights of the parties," but original jurisdiction may be exercised "[i]f the public interest is involved, or if special grounds of emergency or other good reasons exist").
2. Appellate jurisdiction
(a) Direct appeals. The Supreme Court has direct appellate jurisdiction in law and in equity cases. S.C. Const. art. V, 5 ("The Court shall have appellate jurisdiction only in cases of equity, and in such appeals they shall review the findings of fact as well as the law, except in cases where the facts are settled by a jury and the verdict not set aside. The Supreme Court shall constitute a court for the correction of errors at law under such regulations as the General Assembly may prescribe."); see also S.C. Code Ann. 18-9-10 (Supp. 2011) (stating "[a]n appeal may be taken to the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals in the cases mentioned in sections 14-3-320 and 14-3-330," and "the procedure for taking the appeal is as provided by the S.C. Appellate Court Rules"); S.C. Code Ann. 1-23-390 (Supp. 2011) (specifying Supreme Court review of final judgments of the circuit court and the Court of Appeals in agency matters).
The Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction over direct appeals in seven types of cases: (1) a final judgment from the circuit court involving a sentence of death; (2) a final decision of the Public Service Commission setting public utility rates; (3) a final judgment involving a challenge on state or federal grounds to the constitutionality of a state law or county or municipal ordinance, where the constitutional challenge is a principal issue (but where the constitutional issue is not a significant one, the Supreme Court may transfer the case to the Court of Appeals); (4) a final judgment from the circuit court involving general obligation debt or public bonds; (5) a final judgment from the circuit court pertaining to elections and election procedures; (6) orders limiting investigations of state grand juries; and (7) an order of the family court relating to an abortion by a minor. S.C. Code Ann. 14-8-200(b) (Supp. 2011). The Supreme Court "may reverse, affirm, or modify the judgment. . . appealed from in whole or in part and as to any or all of the parties, and the judgment shall be remitted to the court below to be enforced according to law." S.C. Code Ann. 18-9270 (Supp. 2011).
(b) Certiorari. The Supreme Court may also issue writs of certio-rari to review decisions of the Court of Appeals and to review post-conviction relief cases (PCR) ruled upon by the circuit court. See S.C. Code Ann. 14-8-210(a) (Supp. 2011) (stating decisions of the Court of Appeals are "final and not subject to further appeal, except by petition for review or by other exercise of discretionary review by the Supreme Court"); Rule 242(a), SCACR (providing "[t]he Supreme Court, or any two justices thereof, may in its discretion, on motion of any party to the case or on its own motion, issue a writ of certiorari to review a final decision of the Court of Appeals"); see also S.C. Code Ann. 17-27-100 (2003) (allowing a final PCR decision to be reviewed by a writ of cer-tiorari as provided by the S.C. Appellate Court Rules); Rule 243, SCACR (stating a final PCR decision shall be reviewed by the Supreme Court upon the petition of either party for a writ of certiorari, in accordance with the procedure set forth in the rule).
(c) Transfer of cases. The Supreme Court may in its discretion, on motion of any party to the case, on request of the Court of Appeals, or on its own motion, certify a case pending before the Court of Appeals for review by the Supreme Court where the case involves an issue of significant public interest, a legal principle of major importance or where otherwise appropriate. Certification transfers jurisdiction over the case to the Supreme Court for all purposes. S.C. Code Ann. 14-8-210(b) (Supp. 2011); Rule 204(b), SCACR.
(d) Certification of questions of law. Although not before it as a matter of direct appeal, the Supreme Court in its discretion may answer questions of law certified to it by a federal court of the United States or by the highest or intermediate appellate court of another state when requested to do so by the certifying court if there are questions of law of this state which may be determinative of the cause then pending in the certifying court, and it appears to the certifying court that there is no controlling precedent from the Supreme Court. Rule 244(a), SCACR.
3. Rule making authority
"The Supreme Court shall make rules governing the administration of all the courts of the State. Subject to the statutory law, the Supreme Court shall make rules governing the practice and procedure in all such courts." S.C. Const. art. V, 4; see also S.C. Code Ann. 14-3-640 (1976) ("The court may establish and promulgate such rules and regulations as may be necessary to carry into effect the provisions of this article and to facilitate the work of the court."); S.C. Code Ann. 14-8-430 (Supp. 2011) ("Pursuant to the provisions of 14-3-940 and 14-3-950, the Supreme Court may establish and promulgate such rules as may be necessary to carry into effect the provisions of this article and to facilitate the work of the Court of Appeals.").
"All rules governing the administration of all courts of the State shall become effective upon publication of such rules in the Court Register." S.C. Code Ann. 14-3-940(a) (Supp. 2011).
"Rules governing the practice and procedure of all courts of the State shall become effective upon publication in the Court Register and review by the General Assembly pursuant to the provisions of Section 14-3-950." S.C. Code Ann. 14.3.940(b) (Supp. 2011); see also S.C. Const. art. V, 4A ("All rules and amendments to rules governing practice and procedure in all courts of this State promulgated by the Supreme Court must be submitted by the Supreme Court to the Judiciary...