Justice

South Carolina Lawmaker Asks Prospective Judges If They Believe In God

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A South Carolina lawmaker is fielding accusations of violating the U.S. Constitution after sending judicial candidates a questionnaire asking their legal opinions on controversial topics and the nature of their relationship to God.

According to The State, Republican state representative Jonathon Hill issued a 30-question survey last week to candidates currently campaigning to become judges in South Carolina. Judges are elected by legislators in the Palmetto State, and while the survey itself was enough to raise eyebrows, Hill has garnered staunch criticism for the nature of his questions: among other controversial inquiries, the survey asked candidates how they would approach a case where a woman sued for equal pay, whether or not they would perform a same-sex marriage, and whether they have a “personal relationship” to God.

“Do you believe in the ‘Supreme Being’ (SC Constitution, Article VI, Section 2)?” one of the questions read. “What is the nature of this being? What is your personal relationship to this being? What relevance does this being have on the position of judge? Please be specific.”

Another question asked candidates how they would respond to attacks on LGBT people in South Carolina, where there are currently no hate crimes laws on the books.

“In a case where someone was assaulted because he was gay, would you consider it a ‘hate crime’ and increase the penalty?” the question read.

None of the candidates responded to the survey, and representatives from the Judicial Merit Selection Commission, which oversees the election that will be held this Wednesday, reportedly contacted Hill to tell him that the Code of Judicial Conduct bans judges from answering several of his questions. This is primarily because doing so would functionally amount to a promise to decide future cases a certain way, as opposed to taking each case on its merits.

Also, since the would-be judges are candidates in an election, asking them specific questions about their faith and spiritual affiliations effectively amounts to a “religious test.” Such tests are explicitly forbidden in Article VI, paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which reads “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Hill, a 29-year-old freshman lawmaker who is listed on his website as the chief organizer of the “Anderson TEA Party” in Anderson, South Carolina, has tried to move past the controversy by telling The State “You live and learn.” He has not abandoned the idea of a questionnaire, however, and informed reporters that he may issue another one next year — albeit with questions that “work a little bit better.”

Some of the questions from the survey are listed below:

  • What religious or community organizations are you actively involved in, if any?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the argument that homosexual marriage is a “right” protected under the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, which would render S.C.’s 2006 marriage amendment unconstitutional. Please explain why.
  • Will you make prayer and religious displays (such as the Ten Commandments) a part of your court? Please explain why or why not.
  • Would you perform a homosexual marriage, either voluntarily or involuntarily?
  • Do you believe unborn children have rights? If so, how would those factor in to your decisions as a judge?
  • Given a case where a local gun restriction ordinance was being challenged, would you uphold the ordinance or strike it down? What factors would play into that decision?
  • If a woman sued her employer because she was paid a lower rate than her male coworkers, would you rule in her favor or not? Please explain why.

(h/t The Friendly Atheist blog)