Former SC Supreme Court Justice Kaye Hearn shares her career achievements, challenges

Published: Mar. 27, 2023 at 6:20 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 27, 2023 at 8:32 PM EDT
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - March is Women’s History Month and to celebrate we highlight one of the most powerful women who made history in the South Carolina Supreme Court, former Justice Kaye Hearn.

Her chapter in her life as a Justice has come to an end as her years of service ended in February.

“I’m just glad I had the opportunity to be on the Supreme Court,” said Hearn.

Book by book Kaye Hearn packed up boxes filled with determination and memories. Other boxes contained pictures that remind her of how far she’s come and the friends she made in her career journey, including small happy moments. One of her most memorable moments was when she invited her Supreme Court Justice colleagues to her house. There, she managed to make her peers wear bunny ears.

Hearn was elected to the South Carolina Supreme Court in May of 2009, becoming only the second woman member in the court’s history.

In her early career, Hearn was a member of the South Carolina Court of Appeals for fifteen years, serving as its Chief Judge for ten years.

Growing up she imagined her life as a lawyer, saying becoming a judge did not cross her mind.

Hearn said she wanted to become a ballerina but after seeing the wage gap between men and women in the 1970s she pursue her education in law, a career path that also had fewer women than men at the time.

“It was not your typical career choice for women in the early 70s. Nobody thought it was a good idea except my mom and dad,” said Hearn.

Hearn said that through her journey people tried to talk her down from becoming a lawyer just because she was a woman.

“People said very funny things like ‘oh! you’ll get to be a legal secretary if you go to law school.’ I thought ‘well I’m not going to college for 7 years to be a legal secretary or you get to be a law librarian. Or you’ll marry a lawyer. this will be wonderful for you,” said Hearn.

Hearn kept pushing forward and made history along the way until finally made it to the Supreme Court. Along with her colleagues, she had to make some of the toughest decisions.

“We are the supreme court so we get the most difficult cases,” said Hearn. “Some of the cases especially when it deals with children. Some of the child abuse cases are really really tough. I’ve seen some pictures, some autopsies photos. I wish I can erase them from my mind but I can’t.”

With each case, she tried her best to bring the right judgment.

Most recently she was part of the majority opinion striking down the state’s 2021 Fetal Heartbeat Law saying preventing the option of abortion after 6 weeks into a pregnancy was a direct violation of a woman’s right to privacy under the SC Constitution.

“Hopefully I’ve made a mark. I liked to think that I stood up not just for women but for men too and I’m proud of my decisions so it feels good,” said Hearn.

Hearn is the longest-serving state court judge in South Carolina history, but it was time to say goodbye.

Hearn reached the mandatory age for justice to leave the bench which is 72 years old.

For the first time in 35 years, the S.C. court will not have a female justice. A man is set to replace her seat on the court.

“I do feel by not having a woman on the supreme court when we had one for over 45 years that we are backing up. It makes me sad for South Carolina but hopefully the next time there’s a vacancy a woman will be elected,” said Hearn.

“How does a woman’s perspective in the South Carolina Supreme Court make a difference?” said Laguerre.

“Each of us brings our own history to the court. Our own experiences. Culturally, economically, gender-wise, racially and I think it’s wonderful to have various different experiences,” said Hearn.

Hearn said is not easy to say goodbye, leaving behind good people in her career and the changes she made along the way. But she knows she is not the only woman who can make a change.

“I just want them to follow their dreams. I think sadly for women many times they are told either directly or by society “well is not time for that now, you have young children take your time and support your husband’s career. It’s not time for you to do this. Is not time for you to have that career” It is time and women should not wait,” said Hearn.

Hearn will also remain as an acting justice with the court for cases that she heard in 2022 that have yet to be ruled.

Once that is over, she is excited to spend more time with her grandson and family.

To see more details on Hearn’s career, you can watch the full interview below.