Viewpoint

A constitutional shame in S.C.

From an opinion column by Cindi Ross Scoppe Monday in The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C.:

The crowning achievement of Gov. Ben Tillman’s reign of terror on South Carolina was the Constitution of 1895. It was a dramatic departure from the Reconstruction Constitution of 1868, which had allowed all men to vote, even African-Americans, even white men who didn’t own property.

The goal of the Tillman constitution was to keep the majority-black population from voting and, failing that, to make sure black voters couldn’t accomplish anything.

The former was achieved via Jim Crow laws. The latter was achieved by making the governor a figurehead and enshrining the General Assembly as the dominant organ of government, to serve as the private club of those who owned things, the defender of the status quo.

The Tillman Constitution has been amended extensively in the past 120 years, and the Legislature has increased gubernatorial authority, but the basic framework remains. South Carolina remains the Legislative State, where governors, attorneys general, and even Supreme Court justices know that their authority extends only so far as legislators are willing to allow.

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