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Constituional Law

Supreme Court Enjoins Probate Judges From Issuing Same Sex Marriage Licenses Pending Decision From U.S. District Court

In State ex rel. Wilson v. Condon, No. 002121, 2014 WL 5038396 (S.C. Oct. 9, 2014), the supreme court enjoined probate judge Irvin G. Condon and all South Carolina probate judges from issuing same-sex marriage licenses pending a decision from United States District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs in Bradacs v. Haley, 3:13­–CV–02351–JMC. Id. at *1.

The supreme court ordered the injunction after Probate Judge Irvin G. Condon accepted a marriage application from a same-sex couple and indicated he would issue a marriage license following expiration of the twenty-four hour waiting period, id.; see also S.C. Code Ann. § 20–1–220 (2014), relying on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Bostic v. Schaefer, 760 F.3d 352 (4th Cir. 2014).

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Not Feeling Ten White Jurors Were Right for the Jury Is Not a Sufficient Justification under Batson

In State v. Giles, the supreme court held that a race neutral explanation, although it may be implausible or fantastic, must be clear and reasonably specific to provide the movant an opportunity to prove the justification is pre-textual.

During jury selection, Giles, representing himself with standby counsel, used his peremptory challenges to strike eight white males and two white females.  The State requested an inquiry pursuant to Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986).  The trial court asked Giles why he excluded the jurors, and his standby counsel stated that Giles “did not feel the jurors were right for the jury.”  The trial court agreed that this was a race neutral reason, but did not provide any support for whether the decision was pre-textual.  The trail court granted the State’s motion and quashed the jury panel.  Thereafter, a jury convicted James A. Giles of first-degree burglary, strong arm robbery, and kidnapping.  Continue reading

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The Attorney General Can Prosecute Cases in Magistrate and Municipal Court

In State v. Long, the supreme court held that the Attorney General has the authority to prosecute cases in magistrate and municipal courts.

The supreme court consolidated two criminal domestic violence cases where the defendant raised the issue of the Attorney General prosecuting a case in municipal court.  One municipal court granted the motion, while the other did not.

The issue before the court was whether Article V, Section 24 of the South Carolina Constitution prohibits the Attorney General from prosecuting cases in summary courts. Continue reading

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Trustees Could Sue Pastor for Defamation for Statements Made at a Congregational Meeting

In Banks v. St. Matthew Baptist Church, the supreme court, in a 3-2 decision, held that the circuit court had jurisdiction over a defamation suit concerning statements made at a congregational meeting.  The statements at issue involved allegations that the Board of Trustees of St. Matthew Baptist Church (“Trustees”) mortgaged Church property to purchase apartment buildings and failed to insure and properly manage the buildings.

Clinton Brantley was pastor of St. Matthew Baptist Church in North Charleston.  At a congregational meeting, Brantley stated that the Trustees: (1) mortgaged Church property to purchase apartment buildings, (2) failed to insure the apartment buildings; (3) mismanaged funds so that money was missing; and (4) deceived him constantly.  He subsequently asked the congregation to remove the Trustees, which they did.  Continue reading

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No Public Policy Exception Exists for the Full Faith and Credit Clause

In Widenhouse v. Colson, the South Carolina Supreme Court held that a judgment from North Carolina that violates the public policy of South Carolina is still enforceable under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution.

Sue Widenhouse sued Tammy Colson in North Carolina for alienation of affections and criminal conversion.  Widenhouse prevailed and a jury awarded her $266,000 in damages.  Widenhouse filed notice of the judgment in a Greenville County court.  Continue reading

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Police Can Open Car Doors When They Fear For Safety

 In McHam v. State, the supreme court addressed whether a police officer’s decision to open a passenger door because the officer feared for his safety was an impermissible search under the Fourth Amendment. The case arose in the context of a PCR appeal.

 Police conducted a checkpoint on Powell Mill Road in Spartanburg County.  Three police officers in marked cars were present.  McHam was stopped at the checkpoint at 10:50 p.m. McHam had a passenger in his vehicle, and neither of them were wearing their seatbelts.  An officer asked McHam for his license, registration, and proof of insurance.  McHam provided his driver’s license, and McHam and the passenger searched for their rest of the information.  The officer stated that “they were making a lot of movements in the car that he didn’t feel was consistent with looking for a registration card or a proof of insurance.”  The officer walked to the passenger side of the vehicle to make sure they were not accessing a weapon; once there, the officer could not see their hands and so “for his own safety he opened up the door to watch what they were doing while they were going through the car.” Continue reading

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Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is Unconstitutional

Written by John Tamasitis

In a stunning opinion, authored by Chief Justice Roberts, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (“VRA”) in Shelby County v. Holder.  The 5-4 decision, decided primarily on ideological lines, held that Section 4’s coverage formula for determining which states and political subdivisions would be required to submit all changes to their voting laws for federal approval, pursuant to Section 5 of the VRA, was unconstitutional as applied.  The court reinforced the main points of its decision by highlighting the fact that the recent formula under Section 4 had not changed since 1975.  That formula extended coverage to jurisdictions who implemented voting tests and had less than fifty percent voter registration and/or turnout for the 1972 presidential election.  According to the court, the coverage formula was “based on decades-old data and eradicated practices. Indeed, the coverage formula had remained static since the 1970s because Congress failed to continuously update it to fit the current political landscape.  Thus, while the VRA’s most recent renewal occurred in 2006, and SCOTUS held that the formula was no longer justified by current political conditions. Continue reading

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The Impact (If Any) of Windsor and Perry on South Carolina’s Definition of Marriage

Article XVII, Section 15 of the South Carolina Constitution states, in pertinent part:  “A marriage between one man and one woman is the only lawful domestic union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.”  Early this week the United States Supreme Court decided two cases concerning the legality of restricting same-sex marriage: Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor.  In Perry, the Court dismissed the case for lack of standing, therefore the case does not affect Article XVII, Section 15 of the South Carolina Constitution.  Continue reading

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The South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank’s Board Survives the Constitutional Challenge

In South Carolina Public Interest Foundation v. South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank, the supreme court held that legislators holding position on the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank’s (The Bank) Board did not violate the prohibition against dual office holding and did not violate separation of powers.

The Bank was formed to finance “major qualified projects by providing loans and other financial assistance to government units and private entities for constructing and improving highway and transportation facilities.”  S.C. Code Ann. § 11-43-120 (2011).  The Bank does so by “mak[ing] loans to qualified borrowers to finance the eligible costs of qualified projects and to acquire, hold, and sell loan obligations at prices and in a manner as the [B]oard determines advisable.”  § 11-43-150(5).  The Bank can “borrow money through the issuance of indebtedness as provided in this chapter.”  § 11-43-150(14).  The Bank has expended almost $3 billion dollars to fund major transportation projects. Continue reading

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The Barnwell County Council Cannot Also Be the Board of Trustees for the Barnwell County Hospital

In Alexander v. Houston, the supreme court examined the dual office prohibition, holding that the circuit court erred in dismissing the complaint where it sought a declaration that the Barnwell County Council violated the constitutional prohibition against dual office holding when the Council assumed positions as board members.

In 1998 the Council passed an ordinance creating the Board of Trustees for the Barnwell County Hospital. Continue reading

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