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Women’s History Month: Former Justice Kay Hearn discusses ‘A Woman’s Place’

Justice Kaye Hearn, a former member of the South Carolina Supreme Court, was the keynote speaker for “A Woman’s Place” on March 28, 2024.

Last updated March 28, 2024

By Furman News

Women’s History Month at Furman
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Not long before retiring on Dec. 31, 2022, Kaye Hearn, the only woman serving on the South Carolina Supreme Court at the time, wrote the majority opinion of a ruling striking down the state’s ban on abortions after six weeks.

Just a few months later, the now all-male court issued another decision that brought the six-week ban back.

“I defy you to bring those two statues in and see any meaningful difference between them,” Hearn told an audience of more than 200 people in the Watkins Room of Furman University’s Trone Student Center for “A Woman’s Place,” a discussion hosted by The Riley Institute’s Advance Team during Women’s History Month. “What was different was there was not a woman’s voice in the caucus.”

Kaye Hearn (center), a former member of the South Carolina Supreme Court, was joined by Teresa Nesbitt Cosby, professor of political science, and Glen Halva-Neubauer, chair of Politics and International Affairs, for a discussion during “A Woman’s Place” on March 28, 2024.

More than half of the students in South Carolina’s law schools are women, Hearn said, and women make up well over 30 percent of the state court judiciary. But that diversity does not extend to the state’s highest court, which is now the only all-male state supreme court in the United States.

“On a very basic level, litigants and lawyers who come into the courtroom need to be able to look up on that bench and see someone who looks like them,” she said. “It gives confidence in the judicial system. And a diverse bench promotes richer jurisprudence by incorporating a broader range of life experiences.”

South Carolina is also one of only two states in which state Supreme Court justices are elected by their state legislatures. “Our General Assembly has become more and more conservative over the years,” Hearn said during a panel discussion with Teresa Cosby, a professor of politics and international affairs and an attorney, and Glen Halva-Neubauer, the Dana Professor and Chair of Politics and International Affairs. The way to add women to the bench, Hearn said, is to elect more women to the General Assembly.

Riley Institute Advance Team Leader Lillian Meyer ’24 gives the welcoming remarks at “A Woman’s Place” on March 28, 2024.

The message resonated with Lillian Meyer ’24, leader of The Riley Institute Advance Team. In October 2023, the team of more than 30 students had helped facilitate a visit to Furman by the five state supreme court justices.

“That really made us think about representation in the judicial branch,” said Meyer, a double major in politics and international affairs and Africana studies, in an interview before the event. “A lot of people are paying more attention to judges and courts right now because they’re having a lot more control in our lives, especially for women with the abortion decisions.”

Hearn would be a perfect choice to speak about those issues, Meyer and her colleagues decided. Getting to know the retired justice has also given the senior, who plans to enter the legal profession herself, a morale boost.

“She is so inspirational, in that she was doing these things when so few women were, and she was opening doors for so many people,” said Meyer. “I really hope people leave the event feeling empowered – that it can get better, that they can be a part of making it better.”

For her part, Hearn was proud to be at Furman during Women’s History Month to discuss “A Woman’s Place.”

“I believe very strongly that a woman’s place is wherever she wants it to be,” she said.

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