In a 4-1 decision, South Carolina’s Supreme Court ruled state legislators can no longer use a tradition known as “local legislation,” which allows only a handful of legislators to override a governor’s veto in some circumstances.
It’s a practice that has infuriated governors for years. Basically, it involves a bill that only affects one county, so only the legislators representing that particular county will vote on it. It became an issue after former Gov. Mark Sanford began vetoing such legislation, calling it unconstitutional. More often than not, the Legislature would override the veto– again only using those legislators who represented the area.
Usually, members from outside the county do not vote on local legislation, even if they disagree with it. “The theory behind it was that was the local senator’s business. It was their bowl of soup and not other senators’,” Senate President pro tempore Glenn McConnell told the AP.
Governor Nikki Haley has also been on the wrong side of several “local legislation” vetoes this year, most notably involving the efforts of several rural school districts to raise bonds to pay their operating costs.
The court’s decision stems from a court case involving Fairfield County last year, when mismanagement of the local school board caused legislators to step in and replace the board of trustees with a finance committee appointed by Fairfield legislators Boyd Brown (D) and Creighton Coleman (D). Sanford vetoed the bill, saying the General Assembly was overstepping its authority. He was overridden by the Legislature, most notably by a 1-0 vote in the Senate, where Coleman cast the only vote.
The Supreme Court ruled the process unconstitutional. “We hold the veto override votes of 33 to 10 in the House of Representatives and 1 to 0 in the Senate fell short of the constitutionally mandated two-thirds requirement,” Judge John Kittredge wrote in the court’s opinion. Justices said the Constitution’s two-thirds requirement means the number of those present under a quorum, not two-thirds of legislators representing the area.
The judges also ruled that, because the override did not follow the state’s constitution, Sanford’s veto stands.
Chief Justice Jean Toal disagreed with her fellow judges, saying the Legislature is fully within its rights to set its own rules. She said it has been a court precedent to consider the “yea” votes from those present “and acting on the matter.”
Haley’s office welcomed the decision, “Gov. Haley has said from day one that local legislation is unconstitutional and amounts to legislators cutting backroom deals for their districts,” spokesman Rob Godfrey said Tuesday.