SC Supreme Court: Attorney General Can Prosecute Lawmaker Without Lawmakers Signing Off

Jul 10, 2014


The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that South Carolina’s attorney general does not need permission from lawmakers to prosecute a lawmaker. The Supreme Court overturned an earlier decision that said Attorney General Alan Wilson had overstepped his authority in trying to prosecute House Speaker Bobby Harrell.

  In a unanimous ruling, the South Carolina Supreme Court answered a basic question about the separation of powers.

Attorney General Alan Wilson has been investigating House Speaker Bobby Harrell for allegations of public corruption, including that Harrell used his elected position to get a permit for his pharmaceutical business.

But a state judge ruled in May that the House Ethics Committee has exclusive authority to hear alleged ethics violations against its members – Wilson couldn’t bring a criminal case until House lawmakers determined there was one.

Wilson appealed, and the state Supreme Court ruled in his favor. It said the House Ethics Committee “does not affect the attorney general’s authority to initiate a criminal investigation in any way.”

To be clear, the Supreme Court said nothing about whether the House Speaker is guilty – just that the attorney general does in fact have the authority to prosecute him. 

The case now goes back to a state judge to answer a different question – should Wilson specifically be disqualified from participating in the case against Harrell. They’re both Republicans, but Harrell contends that Wilson is prosecuting him to make a name for himself.