Jean Hoefer Toal

(1943- ) The Honorable Jean Hoefer Toal was the first woman elected to the South Carolina Supreme Court and later became the first female Chief Justice. 

Born in 1943 in Columbia, Toal was educated at Agnes Scott College and the USC School of Law, one of just four women in her class. Throughout her education, she was active in the civil rights movement. She also served as the managing editor of the South Carolina Law Review. Her classmate and future husband, William Thomas Toal, served as editor-in-chief. Both were admitted to the bar on October 3, 1968.

When she graduated, she was one of 11 women in South Carolina actively practicing the law and women still could not serve as jurors. Still, her twenty year career as a practicing attorney included criminal trial work and constitutional litigation. In her most notable case, assisted by a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Toal represented the law student Victoria Eslinger in her effort to serve as page in the South Carolina Senate. Toal won the case, ending the state’s ban for women pages at the Statehouse.

Her career of public service began with her election in 1975 to the South Carolina House of Representatives, representing Richland county until 1988. She became the first woman to serve on the House Judiciary Committee and later became the first female chair of a standing committee in the South Carolina General Assembly. During her tenure, she fought to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment but was outmaneuvered. 

Toal next ran for and was elected Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of South Carolina on January 27, 1988 and was appointed Chief Justice 12 years later, the first woman in either position. 

During her 27 years on the Supreme Court, Justice Toal has written opinions addressing the full range of issues both criminal and civil which come before her Court. Additionally, she has worked to improve case management through promoting technology initiatives, becoming chief advocate for South Carolina’s Judicial Automation Project. Toal retired from the bench at the end of 2015 after reaching the mandatory retirement age. 

Jean Hoefer Toal is married to her law school classmate, William T. Toal, of Johnson, Toal & Battiste. They live in Columbia and have two daughters. Toal is an avid gardener, golfer, and sports fan who maintains a shrine in her den to her beloved Atlanta Braves and Carolina Gamecocks.

As a trailblazer in South Carolina, Chief Justice Toal serves as inspiration for other women. 

“It was wonderful to be able to open that door,” Toal said. “I guess a lot of my career has been about leaving the ladder down and pulling others along.”


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