- Associated Press - Thursday, February 18, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The two senior associate justices on the South Carolina Supreme Court appear to be interested in the top job.

Associate justices Don Beatty of Spartanburg and John Kittredge of Greenville have picked up application materials for chief justice, The State newspaper (https://bit.ly/1QnPARy ) reported.

State lawmakers will elect a new chief justice in May to replace Costa Pleicones (Pluh-KOH- nus), who must retire Dec. 31 because he will have reached the mandatory retirement age of 72.

Traditionally in South Carolina, the senior associate justice is promoted to the top spot. Beatty, 63, has seniority on the court but some Republicans in the General Assembly say two of Beatty’s opinions were “judicial overreach.”

Kittredge, 59, is next in seniority and was on the losing side of Beatty’s opinions that Republicans criticize.

Beatty has sat on the state’s high court since 2007, while Kittredge joined a year later.

Legislators first elected Beatty to the circuit court bench in 1995 from the state House, where he served five years as a Democrat. Kittredge was first elected a family court judge from private practice in 1991, then elected to the circuit court in 1996. Both were elected to the Court of Appeals in 2003.

The two Beatty decisions that Republicans cite as “judicial overreach” have to do with consumers and with poor rural schoolchildren.

In a 3-2 pro-consumer decision, Beatty ruled that auto dealers should have based vehicle closing fees to consumers on an actual cost of a vehicle during a sale.

In 3-2 decisions concerning low-income rural school districts, Beatty ruled the General Assembly must find a way to improve education for children in those districts.

There are racial overtones as well, Beatty would become the second black chief justice since Reconstruction. But if Kittredge wins the top job, Beatty is unlikely to ever get the slot since he’s older than Kittredge.

Beatty and Kittredge have until March 7 to return the applications.

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Information from: The State, https://www.thestate.com

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