COLUMBIA — South Carolina Supreme Court justices on Monday scolded a Republican Party lawyer for appearing to ignore a court order and weighed whether to boot more candidates from primary ballots just one week before voters go to the polls.
The state high court heard arguments Monday on a case brought by Florence County Democrats. It accuses the county’s Republican Party of defying the justices’ order last month by certifying candidates for the ballot who had not properly filed economic disclosure papers.
The justices seemed most concerned with the practicality of enforcing their ruling, noting that absentee ballots have already been sent out. A decision could come as early as today. The primary is June 12. No matter the ruling, it’s expected to result in more lawsuits.
While the case heard Monday involved only Florence County, party leaders in other counties are suspected of doing the same.
Chief Justice Jean Toal chastised GOP attorney Kevin Hall, saying justices are puzzled by his written assurance to the court that the Republican Party carefully followed the May 2 ruling.
“It turns out that’s not so. We’re disappointed in you and your client,” Toal said in an opening statement.
Other justices also pounced. Justice Don Beatty called the Republican attorney’s argument creative but
foolish, and said the document alleging careful compliance was an insult to the court’s intelligence. He believes sanctions are in order.
At issue is a 1991 state law requiring candidates to turn in a “statement of economic interest” – meant to show voters any potential conflicts of interest – when they file their candidacy. The law exempted incumbents at all government levels, who must annually file the forms by April 15. Legislators say the law was written that way to avoid duplication in election years. But it contributed to confusion after a 2010 law required online filing.
The high court ruled that the state law still requires those seeking office to file paperwork in person within the two-week filing period. It directed the parties to recertify only those who followed the rules and submit their revised candidate lists by May 4. Nearly 200 candidates were tossed statewide, but attorneys contend more would have been removed had all party leaders complied.
Attorneys for the county and state election commissions asked the court to require that the names of ineligible candidates be struck from ballot machines and that absentee votes for those names not be counted.