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SC Court of Appeals – Historic Panel Convenes

Court of Appeal Female Panel

May 27, 2009

Following is a transcription of opening remarks at the first all-female panel hearing at the South Carolina Court of Appeals:

Clerk:  "Be upstanding for the Court.  All persons having anything to do before the honorable, the judges of the Court of Appeals, draw near and give your attendance, for the Court is now in session.  God save the people of South Carolina and this Court."

Chief Judge Hearn:  Thank you.  Please be seated.  Panel will remain standing for a moment for a photo.

Chief Judge Hearn:  I would like to welcome everybody in the courtroom today and most especially welcome Paula Connor, Paula Sellers, and Palmer Freeman, the family of our beloved Carol Connor. 

Today marks a significant date in the history of South Carolina jurisprudence.  The three of us, sitting here, side by side represents the first time in our State's history that an appeal has been heard by an all female panel.  I am thrilled to be a part of this historic event with my two sisters, Paula Thomas and Aphrodite Konduros. 

For those of you who aren't familiar with the history of the South Carolina Court of Appeals, let me give you a very brief synopsis of our past.  This Court was first created in 1824 by an Act of the Legislature.  It lasted about ten years until it ran headlong into the hot-button issues of the day: states' rights and slavery.  In 1834, the Court of Appeals struck down a statute which required South Carolina military officers to swear supreme loyalty to the state rather than to the federal government.  This decision was extremely unpopular in South Carolina and it was interpreted as being both against states' rights and slavery.  In reaction to the public outcry, against the opinion, the Legislature reacted by simply abolishing the Court.  Now we are mindful of this and we trust that today's social breakthrough will go a bit more smoothly and won't trigger a similar reaction. 

The Court of Appeals was reactivated, briefly, in 1859, but it was unable to survive the tumultuous years of Reconstruction.  It lay dormant until 1983 when it was resurrected by the General Assembly in order to take care of the large backlog that had developed in appeals. 

In 1993 a very note-worthy jurist was added to this Court, the Honorable Carol Connor.  Besides the three of us, Judge Connor is the only woman who has served on this Court.  She was the first, and today's session, is more than anything else, a tribute to her.  As always with social change, there were undoubtedly those who bemoaned the addition of Judge Connor to this previously all male court.  Fortunately for both the Court and for this State, Judge Connor was a brilliant trailblazer, and we are reminded of her presence each and every time we enter this courtroom.  We are very proud that her portrait hangs in our vestibule.  It is both beautiful and arresting.  Her wisdom and charm was completely captured by the artist. 

Prior to Judge Connor's arrival on the Court, its first Chief Judge in modern times,  Alex Sanders, hung a Latin sign in the hallway between the judges' conference room and the courtroom just on the other side of that door that we entered through.  The sign is supposedly a quote from old Roman days, when a servant would ride in the chariot with a gladiator repeating these words to him over and over: "Remember you are only a man."  Shortly after Judge Connor's election, her male colleagues discovered a new sign hanging below Judge Sanders' sign, also in Latin, which read: "Unless you are a woman."  Now we are reminded, as we process into the courtroom, that you are only a man, unless you are a woman, and we smile and we remember Judge Connor before each and every argument.  

As we celebrate the tremendous progress women have made in the judiciary, I want to take a moment to remember Carol Connor, a pioneer for women and an inspiration to all of us who have followed her.  She was much beloved.  Before her election to our Court, Judge Connor was the second female family court judge in South Carolina, and she was the first, female circuit judge.  She was the first judge in South Carolina to preside while pregnant.  Up until then, of all the complicated issues the Supreme Court had addressed, it had never dealt with judicial maternity leave.  Judge Connor, through her towering intellect, innate common sense, and irrepressible personality, demonstrated that women could not only serve, but serve with distinction, and even with child.  Throughout her long battle with breast cancer, Judge Connor continued to serve this Court faithfully and well.  She remained enthusiastic about life, about judging, and about this Court until the day she died.  Today we celebrate her incredible life and legacy of jurisprudence by dedicating this historic term of court to her memory.  The scarves, the three of us wear around our necks today, belong to Carol. 

Though this moment in time is unique, the justice we render is not.  The seal that hangs behind me is inscribed with Latin words, which means "To each his due."  This motto expresses our Court's ideal of impartial justice for all.  Rest assured that as judges, my colleagues and I, my brothers and sisters, both male and female, pride ourselves on our ability to follow precedent, to judge each situation on its own merits, to treat each litigant with respect, and to render a fair decision.  As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg once said: "Women hold up half the sky.  And they will do so in our Courts.  They need no favors.  They need only equal respect for their talent and equal sharing by men of the job of bringing up the next generation." 

I want to end my remarks today by reading you an old Irish prayer that was a favorite of Carol Connor's.  I suspect she loved it because it really was the blueprint for her life.  It was the way she lived.  And I recommend it as a model to all of us. 

Take time to work.  It is the price of success.  Take time to meditate.  It is the source of power.  Take time to play.  It is the secret of perpetual youth.  Take time to read.  It is the way to knowledge.  Take time to be friendly.  It is the road to happiness.  Take time to laugh.  It is the music of the soul.  And above all take time to love and be loved. 

Thank you very much.  Before we call the first case, I know that some people are here today because of our tribute to Judge Connor and they may have to go back to work, they may have other things they need to do.  So, if anyone needs to leave this, this would be an appropriate time.  Thank you all for being here.