Retiring South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Beatty hears final oral arguments in hometown of Spartanburg

 June 21, 2024

South Carolina's judicial system is in the process of undergoing a major transition that involves its most powerful position.

The Palmetto State's Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Beatty heard his final arguments this week ahead of his impending retirement at the end of the current term in July, The Post and Courier reported.

Beatty, the high court's only black member, turned 72 this year, which per state law is the maximum age to which a judge is permitted to serve.

Ending his career where it was first inspired to begin

Local NBC affiliate WYFF reported that the South Carolina Supreme Court heard its final oral arguments of the current session this week at the new courthouse in Spartanburg, which served as a learning experience for law students and members of the general public who were allowed to attend the proceedings.

It also allowed Chief Justice Beatty, a Spartanburg native, to close out his nearly three-decades-long judicial career in his hometown and in front of his family and friends who were in attendance.

Beatty recalled watching court cases at the old Spartanburg courthouse as a child, which inspired him to pursue a career in the legal profession, and it meant a lot to him to be able to come full circle and end that career in the same place, albeit in a new courthouse.

"There were tons of people I hadn’t seen in quite some time. It was very, very uplifting and heartwarming, I should say, to be home and have that kind of reception," the outgoing chief justice said after the proceedings were finished, according to local CBS affiliate WSPA.

Nearly 30-year career on the bench

The Post and Courier reported that while Chief Justice Beatty was somewhat disappointed by his state-mandated retirement, he nonetheless acknowledged, "I think it’s time. You have a season and I feel that my season is running out."

Beatty's judicial career began in 1995 in South Carolina's circuit courts and he was elevated to the state's Supreme Court in 2007, after which he was selected by the state legislature to serve as the chief justice in 2017.

Before he became a judge, Beatty became a lawyer in 1979 and ran his own law firm in Spartanburg, where he also was elected to serve on the city council for two years and in the state legislature for a single term.

The outlet noted that two replacements for the outgoing chief justice have already been announced, with Justice John Kittredge moving up to take over the chief's role and appellate Judge Letitia Verdin being selected to fill the vacancy on the bench.

Diversity of the court's bench an issue for some

The choice of Verdin means that the South Carolina Supreme Court will be composed of all white members now -- like 18 other states in the union -- but will no longer be all male, according to NPR.

South Carolina is one of just two states, the other being Virginia, in which state lawmakers instead of voters select who will serve on the state's highest court.

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