Kaye Hearn, a South Carolina Supreme Court justice, wrote the majority opinion this month that struck down the state’s six-week abortion ban.

Now, she is retiring and state legislators are preparing to choose her successor, a move that will likely leave the court without a female judge for the first time in 35 years.

The prospect worries Hearn, who became the second woman to serve on the South Carolina superior court after being elected in 2009.

“I have always felt that it is important for both lawyers and litigants to look up in the dock and see someone who looks like them,” Hearn said in a telephone interview. «I think it’s concerning.»

Her departure in the coming months, mandated by South Carolina law now that she is 72, comes at a time when state supreme courts across the country are playing a pivotal role in the fate of abortion rights. When the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, dismantling the constitutional right to abortion, regulation of the procedure was returned to the states. In the past year, judges in Mississippi and Georgia are among those who have been asked to consider whether laws banning or broadly restricting abortion in their states should be upheld.

Hearn declined to comment on the 3-2 decision in South Carolina, which found the state’s six-week abortion ban unconstitutional because it violated the right to privacy.

Lawmakers will vote on Hearn’s replacement on February 1. Two women, Appeals Court judges Stephanie McDonald and Aphrodite Konduros, initially competed for Hearn’s seat but withdrew Tuesday. Their departures left state appeals judge Gary Hill as the only remaining candidate.

«Judge Konduros and Judge McDonald are not only accomplished colleagues on the appellate court, they are good people and friends for whom I have great respect,» Hill said in a statement. “I am humbled and humbled by the tremendous support from the legislature.”

McDonald and Konduros did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The recent court ruling striking down the abortion ban shapes the views of at least some lawmakers on the choice of a new judge. State Senator Josh Kimbrell, Republican, saying NBC affiliate WYFF of Greenville said the ruling «changed the whole game.»

Prominent Republican leaders in the state had criticized the abortion decision, Hearn wrote. Gov. Henry McMaster said in a statement shortly afterward that the court had «exceeded his authority.»

On Wednesday, Hearn emphasized his belief that the three candidates for his position were «eminently qualified,» calling them friends. And he said he supports South Carolina’s system for selecting candidates for the state Supreme Court, in which a 10-person commission made up of lawmakers and the general public evaluates candidates before nominating up to three applicants, who are then voted on. by the Legislature. .

But he acknowledges that the court is in a transition that could make it less reflective of the population it serves. Chief Justice Donald Beatty, the only black justice, will reach retirement age next year, The Post and Courier of Charleston reported. She did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“I think the diversity on the bench gives the public more confidence in the system,” Hearn said.

Once Hearn finishes working on her final cases in the coming months, South Carolina is expected to become one of the only states to have all-male superior courts. (The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest court for criminal cases, also has a men’s court; the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which hears civil cases, has both female and male judges.)

As of May, every state’s Supreme Court had at least one female justice, though nine of those states, including South Carolina, only had one, according to a report of the Brennan Center for Justice, a research and policy institute that advocates for judicial reform.

Meliah Bowers Jefferson, who worked for Chief Justice Jean H. Toal, the first woman on South Carolina’s superior court, told WYFF that many qualified women could have been chosen for Hearn’s seat.

“I think in order to preserve trust and for us to really believe in our judicial system, it’s important that people are able to see themselves in the system by which they’re being tried,” said Jefferson, who now works privately. practice.

Hearn said she likes her male colleagues and credits the late Justice Julius B. Ness with helping her see a path to court. She thinks there is truth to the various quotes attributed to United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor about «a wise old lady and a wise old man» coming to «the same conclusion.»

“But we all bring to the bench our unique life experiences, upbringing, cultural differences, and that’s important,” Hearn said. «It’s really important to the process.»

The son of a stay-at-home mom and a TV repairman, Hearn didn’t hobnob with the lawyers who grew up in Pennsylvania.

But when she became aware of the inequity issues, including the gender pay gap, she decided to go to law school. It was the 1970s and the Equal Rights Amendment was on the table. Activists wore buttons emblazoned with «59» to draw attention to the fact that women earned 59 cents for every dollar men earned. Hearn still remembers the day she had one of those buttons attached to her at a women’s conference in Washington, DC.

When Hearn entered law school in 1974 at the University of South Carolina, it was less than a decade after the state had started allowing women to serve on state juries. She says that women were only a fifth of those enrolled.

Hearn remembers watching Toal, then a young lawmaker from South Carolina, a few years later fiercely advocate for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in the state House. At the time, South Carolina was among the states that had not ratified the amendment, which would have added protections to the US Constitution prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex. (The amendment has never been ratified.)

In 1988, Toal was elected to the South Carolina Supreme Court. Hearn, who was elected to the state Court of Appeals in 1995, joined her on the bench in 2010.

“When I was first elected, we had two women,” he said. «Now, we’re going backwards.»

“I thought we were past the issues of women getting a seat at the table,” Hearn added. “Women deserve to have a seat at the table, as do minorities: African-Americans. I thought we were past that. Apparently, in South Carolina, we’re not.»