The Palmetto Insider

The blog of the South Carolina Policy Council

How the Legislature Rules South Carolina

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In a constitutional democracy, a system of checks and balances—the Separation of Powers—prevents any one branch of government from becoming too powerful.

It’s a basic safeguard every student learns about in Civics 101:

  • The Legislative branch writes the laws.
  • The Executive branch enforces the laws and administers government.
  • The Judicial branch ensures that the laws are constitutional.

 It is through this system that the power of government is held in check—and the liberty of citizens is protected. In South Carolina, both by design and through years of political power concentrated in the hands of a few legislators, the system has been corrupted.

South Carolina’s General Assembly has long enjoyed a virtual monopoly of power over the state’s government and economy. The Legislature overshadows the executive branch and controls judicial branch appointments.

In 1776, and throughout numerous amendments, the South Carolina constitution was designed to create a weak executive branch. At the time, the framers of the state constitution feared creating an executive branch with king-like authority.

Today we do not have a king in South Carolina. We have four: the Speaker of the House, the Senate President Pro Tempore, the House Ways and Means Committee Chairman, and the Senate Finance Committee Chairman. These four positions exercise immense control, not only over the Legislature, but over all three branches of government.

 Here is how the General Assembly rules South Carolina:

  • The Legislature makes more than 420 appointments to a wide array of executive branch boards and commissions.
  • The Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tempore, combined, make more than 120 appointments to executive branch boards and commissions—15 percent as many as the governor.
  • The Legislature exercises significant influence over the judicial branch through its exclusive control of upper-level judiciary appointments.
  • South Carolina is the only state in the country that gives its legislature such authority over the courts.
  • The chair of the House Ways & Means Committee and the chair of the Senate Finance Committee exercise enormous power over state government by virtue of their positions on the Budget & Control Board (BCB).

In fact, the Senate Finance chair is in no way accountable to voters statewide and holds his position based solely on seniority.

Here’s a look at how the Legislature dominates the state of South Carolina:


 Understanding how the legislature wields power in the state is the first step in reforming government and bringing power back to the people.


Written by Robert Appel

September 3, 2010 at 11:52 am

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