A State Bereft of Women Who Lead Unfairly Loses Another
Imagine that within a year of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito were forced off the court because they were too old and President Joe Biden and a Senate led by Democrats replaced them with two jurists expected to allow a Roe-like law to become law of the land. That’s essentially what happened in South Carolina, but with a Republican-dominated General Assembly replacing the only woman on the state’s Supreme Court with a man they expect to uphold essentially the same barbaric abortion law the state court had not too long ago ruled unconstitutional.
Kaye Hearn should still be a member of the South Carolina Supreme Court. Had she remained on the court, the General Assembly likely would not have passed yet another six-week abortion ban like the one Hearn and two of her fellow justices struck down last year. Women would still have the final say over their own darn bodies. But because of a 72-year-old retirement age provision in state law, Hearn was forced off the court and replaced by a man who had less experience than the two women also up for the seat – leaving the Palmetto State with the only all-male Supreme Court in the country.
Hearn isn’t infirm. She’s as sharp as she ever was and will likely make her mark in private practice over the next several years. The retirement age was the only reason the court’s only woman justice is no longer a justice, a woman who began serving on the court with the only other woman, Jean Toal, to have served on the state’s highest court. For emphasis: South Carolina has only appointed two women to our top court in the state’s entire history, and in 21st century South Carolina the last one was replaced by a man during a nakedly political process designed to ensure the court would be more receptive to rolling back women’s rights. And as Hearn has noted in interviews, unlike the U.S. Constitution, South Carolina’s specifically protects citizens’ right to privacy, which was the foundation of Roe v. Wade, a half-century old precedent that was uprooted by the Supreme Court in its much-discussed Dobbs decision.