SC lawmakers react to state Supreme Court upholding Heritage Act

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COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) – The power to change or remove protected public monuments or memorials in South Carolina remains with state lawmakers.

Wednesday evening, justices with the Supreme Court of South Carolina ruled unanimously to uphold the Heritage Act. They did remove the supermajority vote requirement that was included in the state law passed in 2000.

Officials said the General Assembly originally passed the law to remove the Confederate flag from the top of the dome at the State House. They also wanted to address other issues surrounding monuments and memorials.

Justices wrote in their ruling, “…the supermajority requirement of subsection 10-1-165(B) was an unconstitutional overreach by our General Assembly.  The 113th General Assembly—like  all  legislatures—had  no  authority  to  restrict  the  power  of  future legislatures to act by majority vote.”

Following this ruling, the General Assembly now needs a simple majority to approve changes to protected monuments or memorials rather than a two-thirds vote.

Representative Seth Rose (D-Richland) said, “Most of the lawyers in the General Assembly already knew and felt this was unconstitutional to require a supermajority. I think the court’s ruling confirmed what we already knew.”

Earlier this year, Rose introduced a joint resolution that would remove the Ben Tillman statue from the State House grounds. Also known as ‘Pitchfork’ Ben, Tillman served as a Governor of South Carolina and in the US Senate. He was a self-proclaimed white supremacist. Tillman led a race riot that killed six black men in 1876 near North Augusta, South Carolina.

Rep Rose said removing the statue is not about erasing history, “I’m not sure this General Assembly – the legislators at the State House – are ready to do what needs to be done. But I do believe our youth, our children, the future leaders, will not stand for it and his days are numbered on the State House grounds.”

Rose’s legislation was referred to the House Judiciary Committee. It did not receive a hearing a 2021.

We reached out to various lawmakers after the ruling. House Speaker Jay Lucas (R-Darlington) released a statement.

“Today’s opinion by the Supreme Court on the Heritage Act reaffirms the General Assembly’s ability to make decisions concerning the names of this state’s monuments and memorials. While I am disappointed that the Court chose to overturn the crucial two-thirds requirement contained in the original law, the opinion makes clear that the General Assembly is the sole authority. I reiterate what I have consistently said since 2015: the South Carolina House of Representatives will not engage in or debate the specifics of public monuments, memorials, state buildings, road names or any other historical markers during my time as Speaker.”

SC House Speaker Jay Lucas (R-Darlington)

Senate President Harvey Peeler (R-Cherokee) also released a statement.

“The Supreme Court yielded a decision and I accept their ruling. The protections over all of our state’s monuments and statues were ruled constitutional and they will remain in place.”

SC Senate President Harvey Peeler (R-Cherokee)

You can read the full ruling by clicking or tapping here.

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