CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The Chief Justice of the state's highest court urged the Charleston School of Law's Class of 2016 to protect the rule of law and fight for judicial independence.
"The second stanza of America the Beautiful teaches: 'America, America, God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law,'" S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Costa Pleicones said at Sunday's commencement, according to a release from the school. "Only through faithful adherence to the law will our liberty be truly protected. Take it from one who is approaching the end of the line, the fight is worth it. You who are just beginning are the future of this profession and thus of this country. Be proud of what this institution has given you: education and the opportunity to serve. Now make it proud of you."
School officials said Pleicones also told graduates they should lead efforts to ensure the independence of America's courts, just as they fought to preserve the law school in recent years.
"That may mean the sacrifice of offering for public office," said Pleicones, who received an honorary degree during the commencement ceremony. "It may mean publicly supporting measures dedicated to preserving the independence of the judiciary, the branch most responsible for preserving liberty and order in our society. Whatever it is, you must be engaged."
Dean Andy Abrams called this year's graduates were heroes of the law school for persisting in the face of adversities.
"This graduating class of 2016 has been truly inspirational with its grit and courage," he said in a statement. "Even in the face of great uncertainty, they persisted and persevered, and their unwavering dedication to their law school has ensured a bright and exciting future for the Charleston School of Law. They are the true heroes of this story."
The school was to have been sold, but the company that had put in a bid to purchase the school withdrew their application in the summer of 2014, citing the "fragile financial condition" of the school. In December of that year, the Charleston County Legislative Delegation voted unanimously to support making the school a nonprofit and blocking its sale.
Pleicones has served as a jurist since 1991 when the General Assembly elected him to be a state circuit court judge in Richland County. In 2000, legislators elected him to serve as an associate justice on the state's highest court.
He was elected chief justice in January.
School officials say Sunday's graduating class includes 40 from December 2015. Members of the class of 2016 have completed more than 11,000 hours of pro bono public service as of May 1, officials said.