Tuesday, August 21, 2018


We have received a new letter to this editor this morning that I think everyone would like to read. Here it is:

Dear Ron:

You have talked a lot about the motivation for the endlessly repeated rhetoric that Judge Dickson will declare the SCSC's decision too complicated to implement. And I'm sure you are right in your conclusion---that rhetoric allows DSC to continue to collect money for their ongoing, and disastrously uphill, legal battle. (Except in places like Surfside, and who knows how many others where funding for that purpose has simply run out at this point.)

Nonetheless, I am sure that there are significant numbers of lay people in the DSC congregations who sincerely, and with good faith, believe that a likely outcome is that, a couple of weeks or a couple of months from now, Judge Dickson will publicly state that the SCSC ruling is just too twisted and that he therefore can't work with it and is sending it back to the SCSC for them to start all over.

There is, however, a fundamental flaw in this logic. The judicial system, in South Carolina, as in every other state of the Union, simply doesn't allow for that. There is a hierarchy of courts and each level of that hierarchy has its own jurisdiction and its own authority; that jurisdiction and that authority have clearly defined limits. The SCSC ruling is res ajudicata, a done deal. It became even more "done" when the SCSC refused to rehear the case last fall. And it became irrevocably "done" when SCOTUS declined the opportunity to undo it. That is a fact.

Judge Dickson has been given the task of implementing that "done" ruling and does not have the right or the power to do anything else. If he were to color outside the lines and make some sort of radical wildcard move, such as the DSC is suggesting he will, he would in effect be refusing to fulfill the duty that he has been assigned by the SCSC. While such a gesture would not be "misconduct" per se, it would certainly be dereliction of duty and would constitute a grave black mark on his professional record, one that could have serious and lasting consequences for his future and certainly for his reputation as a jurist.

If Judge Dickson, as a circuit court judge, were to fail to fulfill his duty to implement and enforce the SCSC ruling (that the 29 parishes and all their property be returned to TEC), he would be like an officer refusing to enact a direct order from a superior officer. A sergeant simply does not have the right not to implement an order given by a colonel.

To continue the military metaphor: when a higher-ranking officer says "Take that hill," a lower-ranking officer may have several different options available to him/her in terms of the logistics of the attack, but he does not have the option of simply saying, "Sorry, sir, the answer is no. That hill looks too high for me. You and the others at high command are just going to have to rethink this whole thing." The result of such arrant insubordination would almost certainly be a court-martial.

In short, the judicial system is a hierarchy, with a specific structure and specific rules about who can do what. Judge Dickson, as circuit court judge, is literally not in a position to refuse to do what he has been told to do by the SCSC and what, in fact, he has publicly and officially agreed to do---implement the SCSC decision of August 2, 2017. Those who believe otherwise fail to understand the basic notions of structure, hierarchy and authority that are at play. They need to do some honest, clear-sighted thinking and realize that their preferred scenario is a fantasy. And they need to stop writing checks to support that fantasy.

P.S. The other thing that some people, it appears, are having a hard time grasping (or accepting) is the fact that, many, perhaps even most, rulings from high courts include all sorts of complicated and conflicting opinions. In a non-unanimous decision, there are always, of course, those of the dissenters. But even among those in the majority, there are often various, perhaps even contradictory, paths leading to the same conclusion.

None of this matters. Once the majority of the justices on a court such as the SCSC or SCOTUS have ruled, it is that majority ruling that must be implemented, regardless of how complicated or contentious the discussion leading up to it was. And regardless of whether it was a close vote (witness how many SCOTUS decisions, every one of which was implemented, have been the result of 5-4 vote). That is just the way the legal system works.

If this were not the case, many, perhaps most, of the rulings of state supreme courts and SCOTUS itself would be unenforceable. And out entire justice system would be a nearly constant stand-still.


I would add only one point about the "done" deal. The SC Code of Laws states that any change to a state supreme court decision must be made within one year of the ruling. That means August 2, 2018 was the deadline for making any change. I have seen no evidence that any change was made. As I read the law, the SCSC decision of Aug. 2, 2017 is absolutely final in every sense. It was remanded to the circuit in November of 2017 for enforcement. It is the final law, period.

Thank you very much, letter writer, for sharing this thoughtful and articulate piece with us. I continue to be impressed by the letters I am receiving, the good the bad, and the ugly. The ones I have posted are very widely read, with thousands of hits on some of them (the Rev. Rob Donehue [July 2] is presently in first place with 2,768 hits). Dear reader, I know you too have thoughts that we all need to hear. You do not have to agree with me, or anyone else for that matter. Your words are just as valuable as anyone's. Look at this blog as a public forum. So, go ahead and vent. It is better than drinking Pepto Bismol. Send your thoughts to my email address above and I will consider posting them as long as they are not slanderous or libelous. I will omit your name if you wish.