South Carolina Chief Justice (Ret.) Jean Hoefer Toal | Women Vision SC

Former Chief Justice, South Carolina Supreme Court
Former South Carolina Representative, representing Richland County

South Carolina Chief Justice (Ret.) Jean Hoefer Toal has a saying, “if you get a little something, leave the ladder down and pull your sisters up the ladder with you.” She decided early on that as she achieved some prominence and broke barriers she would reach down and pull her sisters along. She has done just that.   She became the first woman to serve as a justice on the South Carolina Supreme Court and then the first and one of the longest serving chief justices in South Carolina history. Earlier in her career, she served in the South Carolina House of Representatives representing Richland County for 13 years.   When she started practicing law in the late 1960s, less than one percent of attorneys in South Carolina were women. Chief Justice Toal is still active in her retirement and mentoring women.  “It’s amazing how much of a difference you can make in young people’s lives when you get them to talk about their aspirations and their goals, and assure them that you’ll be there for them,” she said. 

Her advice for a young people going into the legal profession: “Establish those contacts and networks that can put you with other people who are aspiring to be participants in the legal profession … We have a unique talent at making democracy work that we learned in the atmosphere of law school.“

About the Recipient

Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal began her service as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of South Carolina on March 17, 1988, becoming the first woman to serve as a Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court. She was re-elected in February of 1996 and was installed as Chief Justice on March 23, 2000 for the balance of the term of her predecessor, which expired June 30, 2004. She was re-elected as Chief Justice in February of 2004 and again in February of 2014, each time for ten-year terms.

She is the first native Columbian and first Roman Catholic to serve on South Carolina's highest court.

Born August 11, 1943 in Columbia, South Carolina, she attended parochial school and public school in Columbia and graduated from Dreher High School in 1961 where she was recognized as the state's top debater.

Chief Justice Toal received her B.A. degree in philosophy in 1965 from Agnes Scott College where she served on the Judicial Council, National Supervisory Board of U. S. National Student Association and played Goalie for the Field Hockey team. She received her J.D. degree in 1968 from the University of South Carolina School of Law where she served as Managing Editor, Leading Articles Editor and Book Review Editor of the South Carolina Law Review. She is a member of the Order of the Coif, Mortar Board and Phi Beta Kappa.

Chief Justice Toal practiced law for 20 years prior to her election to the South Carolina Supreme Court, first as an associate with the Haynsworth Law Firm in Greenville, and then as an associate and partner with Belser, Baker, Barwick, Ravenel, Toal & Bender in Columbia. When she was admitted to the South Carolina Bar in 1968, women comprised less than one percent of the licensed lawyers in South Carolina. Now almost thirty percent of South Carolina's lawyers are women.

As a lawyer she appeared on a frequent basis in all levels of trial and appellate courts in South Carolina. She also had considerable experience as a litigator in United States District Court, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and made one appearance as co-counsel before the United States Supreme Court. Her twenty years as a practicing lawyer included a balance of plaintiff and defense work, criminal trial work, and complex constitutional litigation. She wrote many trial and appellate briefs at all court levels. She also had considerable administrative law experience in litigation involving environmental matters, federal and state procurement, hospital certificates of need, employment matters and election matters.

In addition to practicing law, Chief Justice Toal utilized her law degree in public service. Beginning in 1975 she served in the South Carolina House of Representatives representing Richland County for 13 years. She was the first woman in South Carolina to chair a standing committee of the House of Representatives. She served as Chairman of the House Rules Committee and Chairman of the Constitutional Laws Sub-Committee of the House Judiciary Committee. Her legislative service included floor leadership of complex legislation in the fields of constitutional law, utilities regulation, criminal law, structure of local government, budgetary matters, structure of the judicial system, banking and finance legislation, corporate law, tort claims, workers' compensation, freedom of information act and environmental law.

During her 27 years on the Supreme Court, Justice Toal wrote opinions addressing the full range of issues both criminal and civil which come before her Court. Also, she and two of her law clerks have authored three editions of a book entitled Appellate Practice in South Carolina.

In addition to her work on the bench, Chief Justice Toal was the chief advocate for South Carolina's Judicial Automation Project. Under her leadership, technology initiatives were integrated into the eight levels of the South Carolina court system. Some of the technology projects included high-speed network connectivity to all 46 county courthouses and an on-line, statewide case management system. The crowning achievement was the institution of electronic filing of all court records which project is ongoing. Because of her efforts in promoting technology as a way to create a more efficient court system, Chief Justice Toal was recognized by Government Technology magazine as one of the 2002 "Top 25 Doers, Dreamers & Drivers" of technology in government.

She is a member of the Richland County, South Carolina and American Bar Associations, the South Carolina Women Lawyers Association, the American Law Institute, the National Association of Women Judges, and the John Belton O'Neall Inn of Court. She serves on the Board of Trustees of the American Inns of Court Foundation, is Past President of the Conference of Chief Justices, and is Past Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Center for State Courts.

Chief Justice Toal received the South Carolina Trial Lawyers Outstanding Contribution to Justice Award in 1995. She has been awarded honorary doctorate degrees by the University of South Carolina, Francis Marion University, The Citadel, Columbia College, College of Charleston, Charleston School of Law and Converse College.

In 2004, Chief Justice Toal received the prestigious Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award from the American Bar Association's Commission on Women in the Profession. The award, named in honor of the first woman lawyer in the United States, is given annually to five women who have achieved professional excellence in their field and have actively advanced the status of women within the legal community.

In 2011, Chief Justice Toal was named the first recipient of the National Center for State Courts' (NCSC) Sandra Day O'Connor Award for the Advancement of Civics Education. NCSC established the award in 2010 to honor an organization, court, or individual who has promoted, inspired, improved, or led an innovation or accomplishment in the field of civics education. Chief Justice Toal was instrumental in making South Carolina one of the first pilot states for Justice O'Connor's iCivics web-based interactive civics education program for students, and she has encouraged and supported the use of "Justice Case Files," a graphic novel series developed by the NCSC that teaches students how the courts work.

Under Chief Justice Toal's leadership, the South Carolina Judiciary has a long history of supporting civics education. In addition to iCivics and the "Justice Case Files" series, South Carolina has implemented three state civics programs:

The Class Action Program, which brings middle- and high-school students to the state Supreme Court to hear oral arguments.

The Case of the Month Program, which provides streaming video of a case argued before the state Supreme Court. Students are allowed to review the briefs submitted for the case and watch the proceedings.

South Carolina Supreme Court Institute, which is held for middle- and high-school social-studies teachers to teach them how to bring law to life for their students.

Chief Justice Toal is a member of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Columbia where she serves as a lector. She has been installed as a Dame of the Order of St. Gregory the Great by Pope Francis.

Chief Justice Toal is married to her law school classmate, William T. Toal, of Johnson, Toal & Battiste. Chief Justice Toal and Bill were the only husband-wife team to serve as Editor and Managing Editor of the South Carolina Law Review. They live in Columbia and have two daughters, Jean Toal Eisen, a 1993 Yale graduate who serves on the United States Senate Appropriations Democratic Committee Staff at the appointment of Senator Patrick Leahy; Lilla Patrick Toal Mandsager, a 2003 BA, 2005 MA graduate of Stanford University, who serves on the staff of Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman; two grandsons, Patrick Eisen and Marcus Mandsager; and one granddaughter, Ruth Margaret Mandsager. Chief Justice Toal is an avid gardener, golfer and sports fan who maintains a shrine in her den to her beloved Atlanta Braves and Carolina Gamecocks.

About Women Vision SC

Women Vision SC is a program that focuses on issues affecting women throughout the state and the nation and a new generation of young people pursuing public service for their communities and the state at large. The program is produced and hosted by former SCETV president Linda O’Bryon.