S.C. Sen. Tim Scott joins opposition to nomination of state judge

U.S. Rep. Tim Scott
U.S. Rep. Tim Scott MCT

Over a year after President Barack Obama nominated South Carolina Judge Alison Renee Lee to a federal post, congressional concerns over her judicial record have apparently stymied the at-large circuit judge’s chances of making it through Congress.

Junior South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott is the most recent lawmaker to voice concerns over the nomination, saying last week that he won’t support Lee’s rise to a federal judgeship.

“Sen. Scott continues to have significant concerns about Judge Lee and her time as a South Carolina circuit court judge,” Scott’s office said last week. “After serious consideration and a thorough evaluation of all the available information, Sen. Scott will not support her nomination to the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. As vacancies on South Carolina courts occur, he plans to work with the White House and Sen. Graham to ensure that they are filled.”

Scott’s decision not to support Lee’s nomination might effectively thwart almost any chance of the Tulane Law School grad making it through the congressional nomination process. While several lawmakers have questioned Lee’s judicial competence, Scott’s opposition as one of Lee’s home state senators would carry extra weight because of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s “blue slip.”

The blue-slip process is an informal practice exclusive to the Senate’s Judiciary panel. When considering judicial nominations, the committee will ask the nominee’s home-state senators to take positions on the nominations.

There are discrepancies over how much weight is given to the blue slip, as it isn’t a formal practice. The support of home state senators isn’t a prerequisite for a nominee to make it through the Judiciary panel. However, Scott’s position certainly doesn’t bode well for Lee’s chances.

Scott also isn’t Lee’s only home state hurdle: Lindsey Graham, Scott’s fellow South Carolina Republican and a Judiciary Committee heavy-hitter, raised an alarm over Lee’s judicial record after she was nominated in June 2013.

While Graham hasn’t formally said he’ll oppose Lee’s nomination, he’s suggested that serious questions surround her judicial track record. “I appreciate her willingness to serve. However, given the outcomes of some of her cases in the criminal arena, her confirmation would have been a difficult sell,” Graham said Thursday.

The concerns about Lee’s time as a circuit judge center on two cases in particular. In January 2013, Lee lowered the bond of Columbia-area burglary suspect Lorenzo Young, who was subsequently released. Young was then charged in the killing last July of a 33-year-old Columbia woman, Kelly Hunnewell.

In addition, McClatchy’s The State newspaper revealed that, just a month after lowering the bond for Young, Lee did the same for 18-year-old Dequan Vereen, who was facing charges of attempted murder and armed robbery. After being released from jail, Vereen was later charged with the slaying last September of a Richland County man.

Lee’s nomination was received in the Senate and referred to the Judiciary Committee in January. There have been no new actions listed on her nomination since.