COLUMBIA — The first legal challenge has been filed following the discovery that more than a hundred South Carolina laws are missing the state seal.
Greenville attorney Joshua Hawkins filed a lawsuit Monday seeking confirmation to determine if two tort reform bills passed in 2005 and 2011 have the state’s Great Seal. If not, Hawkins says the laws would be invalid, as the South Carolina Constitution requires the mark for acts to officially become law.
The lawsuit comes a week after The Associated Press reported more than 100 laws were missing the state seal. According to the state constitution, “No bill or joint resolution shall have the force of law until it … has had the Great Seal of the State affixed to it, and has been signed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.”
State law doesn’t specifically delegate that duty to the secretary of state, although that office has traditionally performed the task, and legislators assumed it was continuing to do so. Rep. Joshua Putnam, who is challenging Secretary of State Mark Hammond in next year’s GOP primary, told the AP he made the discovery while researching ways the secretary’s office could be more efficient and better use technology.
Hawkins’ lawsuit seeks class-action status for any other plaintiffs affected by what he called “the gross negligence of the Secretary of State.”
Hammond told the AP he expected hearings and legal challenges, and that, moving forward, he’d make sure the seal was on all acts. Rep. Gary Clary, a longtime judge and current state lawmaker, said it seemed unlikely the seal’s misapplication would upend years of legislation but that plenty of lawsuits would be filed.
Clary also said he expects lawmakers will debate after they reconvene in January before settling on clarifying instructions on how the application of the seal should be handled.
Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office confirmed it received a request from Putnam to interpret the constitution’s requirement that South Carolina’s seal must be affixed to legislation before it becomes law. Attorney General opinions are nonbinding and are merely advisory.