South Carolina government and politics

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South Carolina Government
Seal of South Carolina.svg
Formation1789; 230 years ago (1789)
Founding documentSouth Carolina Constitution
JurisdictionState of South Carolina
Legislative branch
LegislatureGeneral Assembly
Meeting placeState House
Executive branch
LeaderGovernor of South Carolina
AppointerElected At Large
HeadquartersState House
Judicial branch
CourtSupreme Court
SeatColumbia, SC

South Carolina government and politics covers the three different branches of government, as well as the state constitution, law enforcement agencies, federal representation, state finances, and state taxes.


South Carolina's state government consists of the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches. The Republican Party controls the offices of Governor, Lieutenant Governor, U.S. Senators, and five of seven U.S. Representatives, as well as the state's Senate and House of Representatives.

Office Republican Democrat Office Holder
Governor Currently Controlled Last Controlled 2003 Henry McMaster
Lt. Governor Currently Controlled Last Controlled 2015 Pamela Evette
State Senate Currently Controlled Last Controlled 2000 Various
State House Currently Controlled Last Controlled 1994 Various
U.S. Senator Currently Controlled Last Controlled 1964 Lindsey Graham
U.S. Senator Currently Controlled Last Controlled 2005 Tim Scott
U.S. Rep. District 1 Last Controlled 2019 Currently Controlled Joe Cunningham
U.S. Rep. District 2 Currently Controlled Last Controlled 1965 Joe Wilson
U.S. Rep. District 3 Currently Controlled Last Controlled 1995 Jeff Duncan
U.S. Rep. District 4 Currently Controlled Last Controlled 1993 William Timmons (politician)
U.S. Rep. District 5 Currently Controlled Last Controlled 2011 Ralph Norman
U.S. Rep. District 6 Last Controlled 1983 Currently Controlled Jim Clyburn
U.S. Rep. District 7 Currently Controlled District re-established Tom Rice

South Carolina has historically had a weak executive branch and a strong legislature. Before 1865, governors in South Carolina were appointed by the General Assembly, and held the title "President of State." The 1865 Constitution changed this process, requiring a popular election for governor. [1]

In 1926 the governor's term was changed to four years. In 1982 governors were allowed to run for a second term. In 1993 a limited cabinet was created.

Executive branch[edit]

Governor and Lieutenant Governor[edit]

Henry McMaster, the current Governor of SC

The Governor of South Carolina is the chief executive of the state. The governor is elected for a four-year term and may serve up to two consecutive terms. The current governor is Republican Henry McMaster who succeeded to the office of Governor of South Carolina when Governor Nikki Haley resigned in order to become the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. The Lieutenant Governor is the second-in-command of the state's executive branch. The Lt. Governor assumes the office if the Governor is unable to fulfill his or her duties. Prior to the 2018 gubernatorial election, Governors and Lieutenant Governors were elected on separate tickets. But for the 2018 election and beyond, the governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ticket.


The South Carolina Constitution provides for the separate election of nine executive officers, making a limited cabinet. This is a large number of elective offices compared to most states, which generally give the governor the executive power to appoint members of the cabinet.

Each officer is elected at the same time as the governor. The separately elected positions allow for the possibility of multiple parties to be represented in the executive branch. The Governor's Cabinet also contains several appointed positions. In most cases, persons who fill cabinet-level positions are recommended by the governor and appointed by the Senate.[2]

Legislative branch[edit]

The South Carolina General Assembly is the state legislature. It is bicameral, consisting of a 124-member South Carolina House of Representatives and a 46-member South Carolina Senate. Representatives serve two-year terms and Senators serve four-year terms. The two houses meet in the South Carolina State House. Each house is currently controlled by the Republican Party.

Originally, each county elected one senator and at least one representative. The vast differences between rural and urban counties gave rural areas an outsized influence over state government. This state of affairs ended with the federal case of Reynolds v. Sims, which mandated that state legislative districts be drawn based on population.

Judicial branch[edit]

The Family Court deals with all matters of domestic and family relationships, as well as generally maintaining exclusive jurisdiction over cases involving minors under the age of seventeen, excepting traffic and game law violations. Some criminal charges may come under Circuit Court jurisdiction.

The South Carolina Circuit Court is the trial court of general jurisdiction court for South Carolina. It consists of a civil division (the Court of Common Pleas) and a criminal division . (the Court of General Sessions). It is also a superior court, having limited appellate jurisdiction over appeals from the lower Probate Court, Magistrate's Court, and Municipal Court, and appeals from the Administrative Law Judge Division, which hears matters relating to state administrative and regulatory agencies. South Carolina's 46 counties are divided into 16 judicial circuits, and there are currently 46 judges. Circuit court judges are elected by the General Assembly to staggered six-year terms.

The South Carolina Court of Appeals is the state intermediate appellate court. It hears all Circuit Court and Family Court appeals, excepting appeals that are within the seven classes of exclusive Supreme Court jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals is selected by the General Assembly to staggered six-year terms. The court comprises a chief judge, and eight associate judges, and may hear cases as the whole court, or as three panels with three judges each. The court may preside in any county.

The South Carolina Supreme Court is the state supreme court. The Chief Justice and four Associate Justices are elected to staggered ten-year terms. There are no limits on the number of terms a justice may serve, but there is a mandatory retirement age of 72. The overwhelming majority of vacancies on the Court occur when Justices reach this age, not through the refusal of the General Assembly to elect a sitting Justice to another term.

South Carolina Constitution[edit]

South Carolina has had seven constitutions:

  • 1776 – SC's first constitution
  • 1778 – Disestablished the Anglican Church, created a popularly elected upper house
  • 1790 – Expanded upcountry representation, further established General Assembly control over all aspects of government
  • 1861 – Confederate constitution
  • 1865 – Required to be readmitted to the Union, abolished property owning qualifications to vote, created popularly elected governor and granted veto power
  • 1868 – Only constitution to be ratified by popular vote, provided for public education, abolished property ownership as a qualification for office holding, created counties with home rule, abolished race as limit on male suffrage
  • 1895 – effectively disenfranchised black voters, requiring poll taxes, and literacy tests, to register to vote. In 1900 African Americans were 58% of the state population.[3] This exclusion of blacks from the political system was largely enforced until after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which authorized federal oversight and enforcement of voter registration and elections to ensure citizens could exercise their constitutional rights.

Since 1895, many residents have called for a new Constitution, one that is not based on the politics of a post-Civil War population. Governor Mark Sanford called for constitutional reform in his 2008 State of the State speech. Several hundred amendments have been made to the 1895 Constitution (in 1966 there were 330 amendments). Amendments have been created to comply with federal acts, and for many other issues. The volume of amendments makes South Carolina's constitution one of the longest in the nation.[4]

Law enforcement agencies[edit]

Local government[edit]

Historically, local governments in South Carolina have been fairly weak. The 1867 constitution established home rule for counties.[1] This was changed under the 1895 Constitution, which made no provision for local government and effectively reduced counties to creatures of the state. Each county's delegation to the General Assembly also doubled as its county council. Under this system, the state senator from each county exercised the most power.[5] Reynolds v. Sims required reapportionment according to the principle of "one man, one vote", which resulted in legislative districts crossing county lines. However, it was not until 1973 that the constitution was amended to provide for limited home rule at the county level. The Home Rule Act in 1975 implemented this.[6] This law provided for elected councils in each county. Nonetheless, the legislature still devotes considerable time to local issues, and county legislative delegations still decide many matters that are handled at the county level in most other states.

Municipal governments may incorporate as cities or towns. However, there is no legal difference between the two.[7] Compared to cities in neighboring states, South Carolina cities are fairly small in size and population, since state law makes annexation difficult.

Federal representation[edit]

Like most Southern states, South Carolina consistently voted Democratic in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century as a part of the Solid South. The Democratic block was maintained due to disenfranchisement of most black voters since 1895; the Republican Party had been nearly destroyed.

The Republican Party became competitive in the 1960 presidential election when Richard Nixon lost the state to John F. Kennedy by just two percentage points. In 1964, Barry Goldwater became the first Republican to win the state since Reconstruction. Mid-20th century issues have led to major realignments of parties in the South, particularly following passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, supported by the National Democratic Party and providing for the protection of minority participation in the political system. Conservative whites have joined the Republicans, and African Americans have largely supported Democratic Party candidates.

Since then, South Carolina has voted for a Republican in every presidential election from 1964 to 2012, with the exception of 1976 when Jimmy Carter, from Georgia, won the state over Gerald Ford. John McCain won the state in 2008 with 54% of the statewide vote over Barack Obama. Republicans now hold the governor's office and all other statewide offices, control both chambers of legislature, and include both U.S. Senators, and five of seven members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Every presidential election year, the South Carolina primary is the first such primary in the South; both the Republicans and Democrats consider it important. The primary is important to the Republicans because it is a conservative testing ground. The Democrats can gauge support of their candidates among the large proportion of African Americans who vote in that primary. From 1980 to 2008 the winner in the Republican primary has been chosen as the party nominee.

US Senate[edit]

The current South Carolina delegation to the U.S. Senate:

Senator Party Since
Lindsey Graham official photo.jpg
Lindsey Graham Republican January 3, 2003
Tim Scott, official portrait, 113th Congress.jpg
Tim Scott Republican January 2, 2013

US House of Representatives[edit]

South Carolina currently has seven representatives in Congress:

District Representative Party Since
Joe Cunningham, Official Porrtait, 116th Congress (cropped).jpg
U.S. Rep. District 1 Joe Cunningham Democratic January 3, 2019
Joe Wilson official congressional photo (cropped).jpg
U.S. Rep. District 2 Joe Wilson Republican December 18, 2001
Jeff Duncan 113th Congress.jpg
U.S. Rep. District 3 Jeff Duncan Republican January 3, 2011
William Timmons 116 pic.jpg
U.S. Rep. District 4 William Timmons Republican January 3, 2019
Ralph Norman official photo (cropped).jpg
U.S. Rep. District 5 Ralph Norman Republican June 26, 2017
James E. Clyburn 113th Congress.jpg
U.S. Rep. District 6 Jim Clyburn Democratic January 3, 1993
Tom Rice 113th Congress.jpg
U.S. Rep. District 7 Tom Rice Republican January 3, 2013

A district map is found here.


The state does not allow casino gambling, but it authorized the operation of video poker machines throughout the state. This yielded revenue of approximately $2 billion per year deposited into the state's coffers. But, in 2000 the legislature banned video poker, requiring machines to be shut off and removed from the state by July 8.[8][9]


The state's personal income tax has a maximum marginal tax rate of 7 percent on taxable income of $13,351 and above.[10]

State sales tax revenues are used exclusively for education. South Carolina has a 6% state sales tax, but when combined with local and county taxes, South Carolina has the second-highest sales tax in the United States next to California. In Charleston, South Carolina, the tax rates equals 10.5% with state tax, county tax, local option tax, and the hospitality tax. Some items have different rates; e.g., the tax is 3% on unprepared food items and 7% on sleeping accommodation rentals. Individuals 85 or older get a one-percent exclusion from the general sales tax.[11] Counties may impose an additional 1% local option sales tax and other local sales taxes,[12] and local governments may impose a local accommodations tax of up to 3%.[11]

South Carolina imposes a casual excise tax of 5% on the fair market value of all motor vehicles, motorcycles, boats, motors and airplanes transferred between individuals. The maximum casual excise tax is $500.[12] [13]

Property tax is administered and collected by local governments with assistance from the South Carolina Department of Revenue. Both real and personal property are subject to tax. Approximately two-thirds of county-levied property taxes are used for the support of public education. Municipalities levy a tax on property situated within the limits of the municipality for services provided by the municipality. The tax is paid by individuals, corporations and partnerships owning property within the state. Intangible personal property is exempt from taxation. There is no inheritance tax.[14]


  1. ^ a b Charlie B. Tyler, "The South Carolina Governance Project", Appendix 5, University of South Carolina, 1998, p. 221
  2. ^ "South Carolina SC – Elected State Government Officials, E-mail Addresses". Retrieved July 31, 2010.
  3. ^ Historical Census Browser, 1900 US Census, University of Virginia Archived 2007-08-23 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved March 15, 2008.
  4. ^ The South Carolina Encyclopedia, Walter Edgar, University of South Carolina Press
  5. ^ Tyler (1998), "The South Carolina Governance Project"], p. 222
  6. ^ Tyler (1998), "The South Carolina Governance Project"], p. 222
  7. ^ Section 5-7-20 Archived 2009-04-01 at the Wayback Machine of the South Carolina Code of Laws. "The corporate name of every city or town incorporated under this title shall be 'the city of "__________" ' or 'the town of "__________" '."
  8. ^ "Video Poker Outlawed In South Carolina".
  9. ^ Statement by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division regarding the change of Video Poker Machine Laws (In PDF Format)
  10. ^ South Carolina Personal income tax,, February 4, 2009. Retrieved March 15, 2009.
  11. ^ a b Sales and Use Tax Seminar Manual 2007, South Carolina Department of Revenue, January 2007. Retrieved March 15, 2009.
  12. ^ a b A General Guide To South Carolina Sales and Use Tax, South Carolina Department of Revenue, October 12, 2007. Retrieved March 15, 2009.
  13. ^ "Code of Laws - Title 12 - Chapter 36 - South Carolina Sales And Use Tax Act". Retrieved 2019-10-23.
  14. ^ South Carolina Inheritance and estate taxes,, February 4, 2009. Retrieved March 15, 2009.