Sunday, January 22, 2023

As PA Supreme Court installs a female Chief Justice, South Carolina court loses only woman

As Pennsylvania celebrates the elevation of Justice Debra Todd as the first chief justice in the state Supreme Court’s 300 year history, South Carolina’s only female Supreme Court Justice Kaye Hearn is retiring, reported NBC News. State legislators are preparing to elect her successor—a move that will most likely leave the court without a female justice for the first time in 35 years. 

The prospect troubles Hearn, who became the second woman to serve on South Carolina’s top court after she was elected in 2009. She is the justice who wrote the majority opinion this month that struck down the state’s six-week abortion ban

“I have always felt that it’s important for both lawyers and litigants to look up on the bench and see someone that looks like them,” Hearn said in a phone interview. “I do think it’s concerning.” 

Her departure in the coming months — mandated by South Carolina law now that she’s 72 — is occurring at a time when state supreme courts across the country are playing pivotal roles in the fate of abortion rights. When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, dismantling the constitutional right to an abortion, regulation of the procedure was sent back to the states. In the past year, justices in Mississippi and Georgia have been among those who have been asked to weigh whether laws widely banning or restricting abortion in their states should stand.

Hearn declined to comment on the 3-2 decision in South Carolina, which determined that the state’s six-week abortion ban was unconstitutional because it violated the right to privacy.

Legislators will vote on Hearn’s replacement on Feb. 1. Two women, Court of Appeals Judges Stephanie McDonald and Aphrodite Konduros, were initially in the running for Hearn’s seat but withdrew Tuesday. Their departures left state appeals Judge Gary Hill as the only candidate remaining.

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