State’s highest court to hold session at Coastal Carolina University
These are words many citizens hear only on television or at the movies. For those who generally find themselves on the proper side of the law, the inside of a real courtroom is often unfamiliar, and perhaps even mysterious, territory.
The event, which is free and open to the public, will bring two to three authentic cases per day to the Wheelwright stage so citizens can observe the judicial system at work.
“The Supreme Court decided to go on the road because we recognized there is a lack of understanding of what our court does,” said Chief Justice Don Beatty. “We decided to lift the veil of mystery surrounding the court. We want to be transparent and help people understand what we do and have confidence in what we do, and the only way to do that is to let them see.”
Once court is in session, the “courtroom” doors will close and remain closed until the court recesses. The public can move in and out of the auditorium between cases when court is in recess. Full security will be in place, and all who enter the courtroom will be checked through security.
Jacqueline Kurlowski, director of CCU’s Edgar Dyer Institute for Leadership and Public Policy and organizer of the event, said the justices have a sincere interest in educating the public about the workings of the state’s highest judicial body.
“This spring they’re having a push to be more visible, to be more accessible,” said Kurlowski, “to kind of let people in behind the curtain, so they can experience what goes on in this branch of government.”
In support of this unique opportunity, CCU’s Mark McIntyre, director of University Event and Production Services, has crafted a customized bench to seat the justices.
This is the first year that court has been held outside Columbia since 2010, when court was held in Conway city council chambers. Justice Kay Hearn, the first S.C. Supreme Court justice from Horry County, who was elected to the S.C. Supreme Court in 2009, is pleased that the court is taking its show on the road again. When she found out the chief justice wanted to return to Conway, she immediately thought of Coastal.
“It’s good for the public to understand and appreciate what we do,” said Hearn. “It’s a historical event, an opportunity for them to see the five members of the Supreme Court in action, and I hope people will come and observe.”
The courtroom is always open to the public, but few citizens have the time to drive to Columbia out of sheer curiosity about the court’s procedures. Kurlowski noted that the public is more likely to observe or even interact with officials in other branches of government, such as the governor (executive branch) or members of state congress (legislative branch).
“The whole judicial side is something the people don’t really get to engage with, especially attending a lawsuit or a court case and hearing oral arguments,” said Kurlowski.
Beatty emphasized that authentic cases will be heard during their two-day stay at Coastal.
“These are actual cases, involving real people with real problems and real issues and we allow the public to come in to see how we solve them,” he said.
Community members can learn the nature of each case from the court website. The justices do not rule immediately, but decisions in the form of justices’ opinions will be available on the S.C. Supreme Court website typically within 30 days of the hearing.
A question-and-answer session between the justices and audience members is scheduled following the final oral argument on April 18.
Note: Visitors should allow ample time for parking and security checkpoints. No one will be permitted to enter the auditorium after court has begun. Court is livestreamed by SCETV on their website. The livestream will also be broadcast in the Singleton Ballroom on CCU’s campus.
Read about the cases to be heard: