Making Democracy Work

South Carolina Supreme Court and Justices

Safeguarding Democracy: Quest for a More Diverse Judiciary

South Carolina Supreme Court Justices

Jean Hoefer Toal CHIEF JUSTICE: Jean Hoefer Toal
GENDER: Female
BIRTHDATE: August 1943
RACE: Caucasian
EDUCATION: BA - Agnes Scott College, JD - University of South Carolina

BIOGRAPHY: Judge Toal practiced with Haynsworth Law Firm in Greenville, later with Belser, Baker, Barwick, Ravenel, Toal and Bender in Columbia. She has litigated in Appellate Courts, US District Court, 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and once as co-counsel before the US Supreme Court. She represented Richland County in the SC House of Representatives, 1975-1988; she became the first woman to serve as a Justice of the SC Supreme Court. As Chief Justice, Toal introduced high speed computer technology to connect the 46 county courthouses, and to manage cases statewide. In 2004, Toal received the prestigious Margaret Brent Woman Lawyers of Achievement Award from the American Bar Association's Commission on Women.

Costa M. PleiconesJUSTICE: Costa M. Pleicones
BIRTHDATE: February 1944
RACE: Caucasian
EDUCATION: BA - Wofford, JD - University of South Carolina

BIOGRAPHY: After graduating from law school, Judge Pleicones served on active duty in the US Army as an officer in the Judge Advocate General Corps until 1973. He continued in the US Army Reserves until his retirement in 1999. After active military service, Judge Pleicones practiced as a public defender for Richland County, as a part-time municipal judge for the City of Columbia and as county attorney for Richland County. In 1991, Judge Pleicones was elected Resident Circuit Court Judge for the 5th Judicial Circuit. In February 2000 he was elected to the SC Supreme Court and was re-elected in 2006.

Donald W. Beatty JUSTICE: Donald W. Beatty
RACE: African American
EDUCATION: BA - South Carolina State University, JD - University of South Carolina

BIOGRAPHY: Judge Beatty began his legal career with the Neighborhood Legal Assistance program to fulfill a personal commitment to serve those who could not afford legal representation. Later he opened his private practice in Spartanburg, his hometown. He served on the Spartanburg City Council and was elected to the SC House of Representatives. Judge Beatty has served on the Circuit Court and the Court of Appeals prior to his election to the SC Supreme Court.

John Kittredge JUSTICE: John Kittredge
BIRTHDATE: September 1956
RACE: Caucasian
EDUCATION: BA - University of South Carolina, JD - University of South Carolina

BIOGRAPHY: Judge Kittredge began his legal career as a law clerk to the Honorable William W. Wilkins, Jr. He practiced law in the firm of Wilkins, Nelson and Kittredge. Judge Kittredge was actively involved in community and state service: Governor's Committee on Crime and Delinquency; Gov. Juvenile Justice Task Force; Greenville Technical College Foundation; City of Greenville Civil Service Commission; Greenville Crime Stoppers; Bd. of Dir. Of Child Evangelism Fellowship. Judge Kittredge served on the Family Court bench in 1996 and the Court of Appeals in 2003.

Kaye G. Hearn JUSTICE: Kaye G. Hearn
GENDER: Female
RACE: Caucasian
EDUCATION: BA - Bethany College (Pennsylvania), JD - University of South Carolina, LLM - University of Virginia

BIOGRAPHY: Judge Hearn began her legal career as clerk to Julius B. Ness, Associate Justice of the SC Supreme Court. Next she practiced law with the firm, Stevens, Stevens, Thomas, Hearn, & Hearn in Loris SC. In 1995 she was elected to the SC Court of Appeals; in 1999 she was elected as Chief Judge of the SC Court of Appeals. Judge Hearn has had leadership roles as President of the Council of Chief Judges of the Intermediate Court of Appeals. She served on the SC Board of Bar Examiners. She serves on the Partnership Board of the SC Law School and the Charleston School of Law Board of Advisors. Judge Hearn teaches a class on appellate advocacy at the Charleston School of Law.

Legal Authority

SC Constitution Article V - The Judicial Department; Sections 1 - 6 and 15 - 20

SC Code of Laws Title 14 - Courts; Chapter 3 - Supreme Court

The court consists of a Chief Justice and four associate justices. It is the duty of all the justices to be present; however, any 3 of the justices shall constitute a quorum. In all cases decided by the Supreme Court the concurrence of 3 of the justices shall be necessary for a reversal of the judgment. The Supreme Court is a court of record and the records are subject to the inspection of the citizens at all times.

The Supreme Court holds at least 9 terms annually in Columbia commencing on the second Monday of every month except July, August and September. Each term is held for so long a period as the public interest may require. The court may hold additional terms or sessions as the public interest may require with the time and place appointed and fixed by the court.


The Supreme Court acts in an appellate capacity on certain cases which come directly from circuit and family courts. The Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction over legal cases involving:

1) Death sentence rulings;
2) Appeals from Circuit Courts setting public utility rates;
3) The constitutionality of state law or local ordinances;
4) State or local bonds or other indebtedness;
5) Cases pertaining to elections;
6) The limitations of grand jury investigations;
7) Appeals of family court orders related to abortion by a minor;

In addition, the Supreme Court has rulemaking authority for the unified judicial system including ethics regulations.

Electing Supreme Court Justices

Candidates for the Supreme Court must first be screened by the Judicial Merit Selection Commission prior to being presented for election by the General Assembly. The members of the Supreme Court are elected by a joint public vote of the General Assembly.

All vacancies in the Supreme Court are filled by elections. However, the Governor may fill the vacancy if the unexpired term does not exceed one year. When a vacancy is filled by either appointment or election, the incumbent shall hold office only for the unexpired term of his predecessor.

Eligibility and Terms of Supreme Court Justices

Candidates for the Supreme Court can be from any geographical region in the state; however, they must satisfy the following minimum eligibility requirements at the time they are elected:

  • a citizen of the United States,
  • a resident of South Carolina for at least 5 years,
  • at least 32 years old, and
  • a licensed attorney at law for at least 8 years.

Justices on the Supreme Court are elected for a term of 10 years. The terms are staggered so that one member of the court is elected every two years. A justice may be re-elected to any number of terms.