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Chief Justice Jean H. Toal to Receive Prestigious ABA Award

Photo of Chief Justice Toal with her daughtersSouth Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal has been selected from hundreds of candidates to receive the prestigious Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award from the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession.

The Margaret Brent Lawyers of Achievement Award is given to five recipients each year in honor of Margaret Brent, the first woman lawyer in the United States. The award was presented to Toal and four others at the ABA Convention in Atlanta on Sunday, August 8.

“I am elated and honored that I will be included in such a distinguished cadre of women lawyers,” Chief Justice Toal said. “I am certainly personally gratified to be recognized for my own professional achievement, but more importantly, I rejoice in the statement this award makes for the status that women lawyers have achieved in this state.”

Chief Justice Toal practiced law for 20 years prior to her election to the South Carolina Supreme Court, first as an associate with the Haynsworth Law Firm in Greenville, then as an associate and partner with Belser, Baker, Barwick, Ravenel, Toal & Bender in Columbia. When she was admitted to the South Carolina Bar in 1968, women comprised less than one percent of the licensed lawyers in South Carolina. She was one of four women in her law school class at the University of South Carolina School of Law and entered legal practice just as South Carolina changed its law to allow women to sit on jury panels. Now 28 percent of South Carolina’s lawyers are women.

Photo of Chief Justice Toal with Sue Erwin HarperU.S. District Court Judge Matthew Perry said that, as a litigator, her “oratory and professional presence were extremely valuable and persuasive for ... women, and she provided quite a role model for those who had never considered the courtroom as a suitable location for women.”

Chief Justice Toal was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1975 where she became the first woman chair of a House subcommittee, the Constitutional Laws Subcommittee, and the first woman chair of a standing House committee, the House Rules Committee.

She began her service as an Associate Justice on the Court in 1988. She was re-elected in 1996, installed as Chief Justice in 2000 and re-elected this year for another 10-year term. She is the first and only woman to serve as a Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court. Lydia Applegate, one of Toal’s former law clerks, states that Toal’s “wildly successful tenure [as a justice on the South Carolina Supreme Court] and contagious enthusiasm for the law ... have inspired a generation of women lawyers to follow in her path.”

Judge Joseph Anderson, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, said, “[Chief Justice] Toal is one of those rare trail blazers who sets fires when they need to be set yet never seems to burn bridges. There is no doubt that South Carolina, not just its women and not just its lawyers, has been forever changed by this one bright star.”

Past winners of the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award include U.S. Supreme Court Photo of Chief Justice ToalJustices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, former U.S. Representatives Barbara Jordan (D-Tex.) and Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and Professor Anita Hill.

The ABA Commission on Women in the Profession was created in 1987 to secure the full and equal participation of women in the ABA, the legal profession and the justice system. The 12-member Commission comprises lawyers and judges from around the United States and includes representatives from private practice, the judiciary, academia and corporations.