Secretary of state expects hearings over missing SC seal
By MEG KINNARD
Nov. 17, 2017
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The lack of an official seal on more than a hundred South Carolina laws is unlikely to upend years of legislation, according to a longtime judge now serving as a legislator, but that doesn't mean legal challenges won't start stacking up in the overburdened court system.
According to the state constitution, "No bill or joint resolution shall have the force of law until it ... has had the Great Seal of the State affixed to it, and has been signed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives."
The legislative documents recording more than a dozen laws reviewed by The Associated Press on Friday lack this embossed symbol, and without it, one longtime jurist says, these laws are open to legal challenges by defendants seeking any avenue to toss their cases.
"Under this scenario, anyone can file any kind of a lawsuit seeking to challenge the validity of a law," state Rep. Gary Clary, a former circuit court judge, told the AP on Friday.
Clary said he doesn't think the state Supreme Court would overturn the potentially hundreds of bills that lack the seal, but the clamor to file suit anyway could clog the courts.
"It doesn't mean that they won't try," he said.
Clary spoke a day after Rep. Joshua Putnam told AP he had discovered the seal hadn't been affixed to some bills. State law doesn't specifically delegate that duty to the secretary of state, although that office has traditionally performed the task, and legislators assumed it was continuing to do so.
Putnam, who is challenging Secretary of State Mark Hammond in next year's GOP primary, said he made the discovery while researching ways the secretary's office could be more efficient and better use technology. He has submitted an open-records request, seeking to discover how extensive the problem may be.
Hammond told AP on Friday that he learned in August, after the last legislative session, that the seal had been "inconsistently" applied and that he was fixing the problem. Attributing the failure to human error, Hammond said he will personally ensure new bills have the seal.
But Hammond, a Republican in office since 2003, said he expects hearings on the matter.
"We will have to wait and see and see what type of actions are filed," he said, adding that legal challenges are "certainly a possibility."
Putnam said he plans to ask Attorney General Alan Wilson for a legal opinion. Clary said he expects lawmakers will debate after they reconvene in January before settling on clarifying instructions on how the application of the seal should be handled.
If this eventually reaches the state Supreme Court, Clary hopes justices will rule that the absence of the seal doesn't nullify years' worth of legislation, sending lawmakers back to square one on hundreds of bills.
That, he said, "would be an extremely chaotic situation that no one would want to go through."
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP. Read more of her work at https://apnews.com/search/meg%20kinnard.