I am a member of bar associations in two different states, so I get to compare and contrast how each state is run. I was shocked to learn today that South Carolina Supreme Court Justice Jean Toal is seeking re-election at the age of 70, even with her recent history of appearing in the news for matters other than court opinions. It’s time for South Carolina Chief Justice Toal to retire and let air breathe into the South Carolina judiciary.
Jean Toal is a former Democrat strong-arming legislator. Her legislative tendencies have from time to time carried over into her management of the bar and judiciary in South Carolina. She is not beyond calling a state trial-court judge on the phone to ride herd on a local nuisance which could impair her broader legislative agenda, even though she is no longer in the legislature. Some trial judges in the state who are not firmly in her camp have found themselves riding circuit to the far swampy corners of the state, many miles from their home base.
Simply, it’s time for South Carolina to a have a Supreme Court chief who behaves more like Chief Justice John Roberts and less like Huey Long.
I get materials from two different state bar associations mailed to me regularly. Nearly every piece of mail from the South Carolina Bar Association is stamped prominently with the face of Jean Toal — almost as if she is running a political campaign, which now, of course, she is. I reported on this phenomena in the local newspaper some years ago. Afterwards, bar mailings with her mug abated, for a time. But now they are back.
The legislature in South Carolina elects judges. The legislature is overwhelmingly Republican. (The Myrtle Beach Sun News reports on a hot race between Jean Toal and sitting Justice Costa Pleicones.)
Toal is famous for being reversed by the United States Supreme Court. One famous reversal was delivered by Justice Antonin Scalia in Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council – in that case, Toal ruled that South Carolina could prohibit a landowner from erecting an oceanfront house as long as a state deemed it improper to build, even if the landowner invested their life savings into the property for a home. Toal’s opinion reasoned that the owner could still enjoy some use of the property — like having picnics.