Judges in South Carolina are elected, but not by the public. Instead, only state legislators can vote in these special elections held in the capitol building. And one new representative is preparing for these races in a novel, yet unethical, way.
State Rep. Jonathon D. Hill, a Republican from the northwest corner of the state, recently contacted all judicial candidates with a 30-question poll, The State reported on Jan. 27, seeking answers to questions on not just law, but social issues like religion, abortion, and gay marriage. For example:
In a case where someone was assaulted because he was gay, would you consider it a “hate crime” and increase the penalty?
Do you believe unborn children have rights? If so, how would those factor in to your decisions as a judge?
Will you make prayer and religious displays (such as the Ten Commandments) a part of your court? Please explain why or why not.
Do you agree or disagree with the argument that homosexual marriage is a “right” protected under the 14th Amendment of the (U.S.) Constitution, which would render S.C.’s 2006 marriage amendment unconstitutional. Please explain why.
Would you perform a homosexual marriage, either voluntarily or involuntarily?
Given a case where a local gun restriction ordinance was being challenged, would you uphold the ordinance or strike it down? What factors would play into that decision?
If a woman sued her employer because she was paid a lower rate than her male coworkers, would you rule in her favor or not? Please explain why.
In a letter to the judicial candidates, Hill says he’s conducting the poll because “it is increasingly common for judges to make decisions that either directly or indirectly cause significant policy changes.”
No candidates have responded to Hill, though, and not just because of the questions’ audacity. Any responses would violate state Code of Judicial Ethics, says Greg Adams, ethics expert at the Univ. of South Carolina’s school of law. Hill’s questions on religious topics violate the U.S. Constitution, as well, Adams told The State.
Employees of the state legislature agree with Adams, too, and gave Hill an after-the-fact lesson in ethics, he admitted. Staff also followed up directly with judicial candidates, informing them that the freshman representative was told to not expect any responses. Hill promised to do the same in the next contests for judgeships, though:
“Maybe next year I’ll be in a better position to – if I put out a questionnaire – to craft it in a way that would work a little bit better.”
State House Minority Leader Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Richland) only offered Southern sarcasm in response to Hill’s acknowledgement of error:
“Bless his heart.”
Hill, who declares on his state legislature bio to be “home schooled,” turns 30 in February. He was a Tea Party organizer in his Anderson County, he says.
Image: JonathonHill.com (modified)