Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court
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Petitioners Jennifer Pinckney, Howard Duvall, and Kay Patterson challenged the constitutionality of section 10-1-165 of the South Carolina Code (2011). Petitioners also sought an injunction prohibiting enforcement of section 10- 1-165. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted the petition to hear the case in its original jurisdiction and found unconstitutional the procedural provision in subsection 10-1-165(B) purporting to restrict the General Assembly's legislative power by imposing a supermajority voting requirement to amend or repeal section 10-1-165. The Court found no constitutional violation in the substantive provisions in subsection 10-1-165(A) preventing the relocation, removal, renaming, or rededication of monuments, memorials, streets, bridges, parks, or other structures. The Court denied petitioners' request for an injunction. View "Pinckney v. Peeler" on Justia Law

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South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson sought a declaration by the South Carolina Supreme Court concerning the use of facemasks in the public schools of South Carolina during the coronavirus pandemic. The Court construed Proviso 117.190 of the 2021-2022 Appropriations Act relating to public institutions of higher learning, and determined from the language in that proviso that the University of South Carolina was not precluded from issuing a universal mask mandate that applied equally to vaccinated and unvaccinated students and faculty alike. This case involved a different proviso from the 2021-2022 Appropriations Act: Proviso 1.108, relating to public schools serving students grades kindergarten through 12 (K-12). Proviso 1.108 manifestly set forth the intent of the legislature to prohibit mask mandates funded by the 2021-2022 Appropriations Act in K-12 public schools. The Attorney General contended the City of Columbia passed ordinances in direct opposition to Proviso 1.108, mandating masks in all K-12 public schools in the City of Columbia. "While allowing school districts flexibility to encourage one policy or the other, the state legislature has elected to leave the ultimate decision to parents. Conversely, the City of Columbia has attempted to mandate masks for all school children by following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, which has the effect of disallowing parents a say in the matter." The Supreme Court upheld Proviso 1.108 and declared void the challenged ordinances of the City of Columbia insofar as they purported to impose a mask mandate in K-12 public schools. View "Wilson v. City of Columbia" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Richard Creswick, a professor at the University of South Carolina (the University), sought a declaration in the South Carolina Supreme Court's original jurisdiction that Proviso 117.190 of the 2021-2022 Appropriations Act did not prohibit a universal mask mandate at the University, and asked the Court for expedited consideration of this matter. Because this matter involved a question of significant public interest that had to be decided before classes resumed, the Supreme Court accepted review of this matter and expedited its consideration. Dispensing with further briefing (finding oral argument would not be helpful), the Court declared Proviso 117.190 did not prohibit a universal mask mandate. View "Creswick v. University of South Carolina" on Justia Law

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Appellant William Lewis, the former Sheriff of Greenville County, asked the South Carolina Supreme Court to hold the 1829 statute under which he was convicted for misconduct in office relating to a sexual affair with an employee, void for vagueness. Specifically, he argued Section 8-1-80 of the South Carolina Code (2019), was unconstitutional because it proscribed "official misconduct, corruption, fraud, or oppression" without defining those terms, and he claimed he was entitled to a directed verdict. Lewis was elected sheriff of Greenville County in the 2016 general election. Lewis hired Savannah Nabors, aged twenty-two, with whom he had previously worked at a local law firm, to be his administrative coordinator. Nabors had no law enforcement experience. She was paid a salary and given numerous benefits, including a new 2017 Ford Explorer equipped with a special "police package," an assigned parking place close to Lewis, a cell phone, an iPad, and a computer. Lewis first had sex with Nabors in 2017 when she accompanied him on a business trip out of state. Nabors testified that Lewis acted appropriately at times but on other occasions, he continued to pursue a relationship with her. Nabors indicated she preferred her relationship with Lewis to be nonsexual; Lewis responded that was "fine" but there would have to be changes, including her not accompanying him to meetings and other places for work. Nabors tendered her resignation in April 2017. By August 2017, Nabors detailed the out-of-state trip in a personal blog and accused Lewis (not specifically by name), of improprieties. Thereafter, she filed a civil lawsuit. Lewis held a press conference in October 2017 and admitted to the affair, but denied allegations of assault, rape, or stalking, maintaining the encounter was consensual. Following a SLED investigation, Lewis was indicted in April 2018 for common law misconduct in office and obstruction of justice. The South Carolina Supreme Court found the applicable statute constitutional, and that the trial court did not err in refusing to quash the indictment against Lewis. View "South Carolina v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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Greenville County Council implemented what it called a "road maintenance fee" to raise funds for road maintenance and a "telecommunications fee" to upgrade public safety telecommunication services. Plaintiffs, three members of the South Carolina General Assembly, claimed the two charges were taxes and, therefore, violated section 6-1-310 of the South Carolina Code (2004). The South Carolina Supreme Court agreed: the road maintenance and telecommunications taxes were invalid under South Carolina law. View "Burns v. Greenville County Council" on Justia Law

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Ontario Stefon Patrick Makins was indicted for lewd act upon a minor, third-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC) with a minor, and first-degree CSC with a minor. A jury convicted him of third-degree CSC with a minor. The court of appeals reversed the conviction, holding a therapist's affirmation she treated the minor victim (Minor) improperly bolstered Minor's credibility. The South Carolina Supreme Court found no improper bolstering occurred in this case, however, it repeated its warning about dual experts: "Using one witness as both a characteristics expert and the treatment witness is a risky undertaking. This issue might have been avoided completely had the State called a blind characteristics expert, a path the trial court repeatedly encouraged the State to follow. Instead, the State chose to proceed with [the expert here] acting as a dual expert." The court of appeals' judgment was reversed and the judgment of conviction reinstated. View "South Carolina v. Makins" on Justia Law

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A South Carolina circuit court's granted summary judgment in favor of Respondent Dennis Powell, Jr. on his claims challenging the internet publication and lifetime duration of his mandated registration as a sex offender under the South Carolina Sex Offender Registry Act ("SORA"). The circuit court held SORA's lifetime registration requirement was punitive under the Eighth Amendment and violated Respondent's rights to due process and equal protection. The court also determined SORA did not permit publication of the State's sex offender registry on the internet. Mark Keel, Chief of the State Law Enforcement Division ("SLED"), and the State of South Carolina (collectively, "Appellants") appealed the circuit court's decision. The South Carolina Supreme Court held SORA's lifetime registration requirement was unconstitutional absent any opportunity for judicial review to assess the risk of re-offending. Furthermore, the Court held subsection 23-3-490(E) permitted dissemination of the State's sex offender registry information on the internet. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed as modified in part and reversed in part. View "Powell v. Keel" on Justia Law

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Terrance Stewart was convicted by jury of distribution of heroin and two crimes based on his knowing possession of illegal drugs: trafficking in heroin and what we commonly refer to as "simple possession" of oxycodone. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted certiorari review to two aspects of the jury instructions: (1) the trial court's definition of constructive possession; and (2) the trial court's explanation of an inference of "knowledge and possession" that the court told the jury it may draw when illegal drugs are found on the defendant's property. The Supreme Court found the trial court erred by instructing the jury on the inference of knowledge and possession. The Court reversed the trafficking and simple possession convictions and remanded those charges for a new trial. However, because the erroneous jury instruction did not prejudice Stewart on the distribution charge, the distribution conviction was affirmed. View "South Carolina v. Stewart" on Justia Law

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John Willie Mack, Sr. petitioned the South Carolina Supreme Court for review of the dismissal of his second application for post-conviction relief. He alleged his DNA counsel failed to timely appeal the denial of his application for DNA testing under the Access to Justice Post-Conviction DNA Testing Act ("DNA Act"). The Supreme Court found that because Mack was prevented from seeking appellate review, it was necessary to provide an avenue of relief akin to Austin v. South Carolina, 409 S.E.2d 395 (1991) that afforded him the opportunity to obtain belated review. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded to the court of general sessions for an evidentiary hearing. View "Mack v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

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South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster issued an order suspending Mohsen Baddourah from his position as a member of the Columbia City Council after Baddourah was indicted for second-degree domestic violence. Baddourah initiated this declaratory judgment action seeking a determination that: (1) he was a member of the Legislative Branch and was, therefore, excepted from the Governor's suspension power under the South Carolina Constitution; and (2) second-degree domestic violence was not a crime involving moral turpitude, so it was not an act that was within the scope of the Governor's suspension power. The circuit court dismissed Baddourah's complaint on the ground the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction and, alternatively, for failure to state a cause of action. The South Carolina Supreme Court concluded Baddourah's indictment charged a crime involving moral turpitude, and the Governor had the constitutional authority to issue the Executive Order suspending Baddourah from his position as a member of the Columbia City Council. Although Baddourah disputed whether the suspension was warranted, "where the Governor was constitutionally authorized to impose a suspension, the decision whether to do so is a matter committed to the Governor's discretion after considering all of the attendant circumstances." Consequently, the circuit court's order dismissing Baddourah's challenge to the suspension order is affirmed as modified. View "Baddourah v. Baddourah" on Justia Law