President Barack Obama has nominated a South Carolina Supreme Court justice as his replacement for a retiring federal judge, despite that justice’s hopes to be elected the state’s top judge.
The White House announced Thursday that President Obama had nominated Associate Justice Donald Beatty to replace the retiring US District Judge Cameron Currie. The nomination must also be approved by the US Senate. Beatty has served on South Carolina’s highest court since 2007, with 12 years of lower court service prior to his appointment there. Justice Beatty also served as a Spartanburg legislator in the state House of Representatives during the early 1990s.
Beatty’s nomination came as a surprise to many in South Carolina’s legal community, since he had previously applied to become chief justice of the state Supreme Court. Beatty will be the court’s senior member when current Chief Justice Costa Pleicones retires at the end of the year. Traditionally, the longest-serving justice is elected by the legislature to replace an outgoing chief.
The State newspaper reported Friday that Beatty still prefers becoming the next chief justice, even as a US Senate confirmation of President Obama’s pick could take months. He said he was honored by the nomination.
But Beatty’s previous positions, in addition to his prior service as a Democratic legislator, concerns some members of the Republican-controlled General Assembly who would prefer fellow Associate Justice John Kittredge. Kittredge has expressed interest in the top seat, but The State reported he did not want to challenge Beatty for the role.
The General Assembly must elect a replacement before adjourning in June, since Pleicones’ term will expire by the time they return next year.
The state Judicial Merit Screening Commission is currently accepting applications for races to be chief justice and an associate justice on the South Carolina Supreme Court next year.