Originally created 12/26/05

Black legislators to push for judges



ROCK HILL, S.C. - South Carolina's Legislative Black Caucus plans a push next year to elect more black judges.

This year, the caucus walked out of a legislative session when black candidates lost to whites in judicial elections.

A bill introduced last year by Rep. Leon Howard, D-Columbia, would have allowed all qualified judicial candidates to be considered for election by the General Assembly. Currently, only three candidates recommended by a screening panel are on the ballot.

The bill passed the House but is pending in the Senate.

Mr. Howard said black lawmakers are tired of waiting for things to get better and the lawsuit may be the catalyst to improve the numbers.

South Carolina has seven black judges out of 112 total, even though at least 30 percent of the state's population is black.

"We have tried to negotiate and have gotten nowhere," Mr. Howard said. "We have negotiated the past 11 years. We made a statement with our walkout. I don't see another walkout, but what it might take is an organized effort to sue the state."

All candidates are screened by the 10-member Judicial Merit Selection Committee, which is made up of six lawmakers and four other people appointed by lawmakers.

Only three names are submitted to the Legislature, which votes for judges. Mr. Howard said that law would fail a legal challenge.