A group of South Carolina lawmakers is firing back after they say a few solicitors were out of line in calling for, in part, the removal of a Black legislator from the state’s Judicial Merit Selection Commission.
In a statement Tuesday, the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus said it “unequivocally condemns” a letter recently sent to S.C. House Speaker Murrell Smith and Senate Judiciary Chairman Luke Rankin, in which nine elected solicitors from across the state requested that state Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, be removed from the body responsible for vetting judges, based on a “pattern” of alleged misconduct in the courts.
Specific instances of any wrongdoing by Rutherford were not clearly cited in the letter. Rather, two cases were alluded to, where Rutherford achieved unusually hefty prison sentence reductions for two separate clients, which, according to the letter, gave the “improper appearance” of Rutherford’s alleged undue influence on the judiciary.
“The baseless allegations published in the letter by these solicitors are a prime example of hypocrisy at best—and thinly veiled racism at worst,” SCLBC’s statement said.
Rutherford, too, has claimed that his status as a successful Black attorney is likely the impetus of the solicitors’ letter.
“There are a number of people who cannot accept the fact that I am a Black man who can simply go into court and do a good job, that it must be because of something else,” Rutherford previously told The State. “There is nothing untoward about what I’ve done.”
The letter from the nine elected solicitors not only called for Rutherford’s removal but also for that of every other lawyer-legislator who sits on the JMSC. Notably, that even includes one of the letter’s addressees, Rankin.
In the Senate, besides Rankin, state Sens. Scott Talley, R-Spartanburg, and Ronnie Sabb, D-Williamsburg, are both lawyers and serve on the JMSC. In the House, besides Rutherford, state Rep. Micah Caskey, R-Lexington, and House Ethics committee Chairman Jay Jordan, R-Florence, also are both lawyers and serve on the JMSC.
Of the six lawyer legislators serving on the JMSC, only Rutherford was specifically called out in the letter, which follows a pledge by state Sen. Wes Climer to block all judicial elections during the next legislative session unless Rutherford is booted from the judge selection group.
“The SCLBC will not stand idly by while a few politicians attempt to single out the only Black lawyer-legislator appointed by the House when every legislator appointed by the General Assembly to the screening committee is a lawyer-legislator,” the SCLBC’s statement read.
“If these solicitors wish to have a voice in the General Assembly’s business, they should follow the proper democratic process and run for the Statehouse,” the statement said.