SC Supreme Court listens to arguments in federal unemployment benefits lawsuit appeal

South Carolina News

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) — Legal challenges to South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster’s decision to end federal unemployment benefits early continues.

Back in August, a state circuit judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging the Governor’s decision. The judge wrote that the Governor and state officials had the authority to decide whether or not the state is enrolled in optional federal benefits.

Attorneys representing the four unemployed South Carolinians who filed the lawsuit, appealed the decision. The State Supreme Court of South Carolina decided to take up the case on an emergency basis Monday.

The attorneys representing the appellants claimed the Governor and SC Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW) violated state law by ending the benefits.

“We are not asking this court to decide whether or not the defendant’s actions, in this case, were wise,” Attorney Adam Protheroe told justices. “We’re asking if it was lawful.”

Protheroe argued that state labor law requires DEW to bring in unemployment benefits tied to the Social Security Act.

Senior Legal Counsel for Governor Henry McMaster Grayson Lambert said this law does not apply to these benefits since they were established by the CARES Act in 2020.

“We’re left with the fact that these are benefits enacted under the CARES Act, the eligibility is set by the CARES Act, and the money is appropriated by the CARES act,” Lambert told justices. “These are CARES Act programs, not Social Security ones.”

“There’s nothing mutually exclusive about a benefit being enacted by the CARES Act and at the same time being available under the provisions of the Social Security Act which is what’s happened here,” Protheroe said during a rebuttal.

According to Lambert, the federal government has provided guidance saying Governors have the authority to decide whether or not their state is enrolled in the pandemic unemployment benefits.

“That means the Governor retains complete digression when it comes to the CARES Act whether or not a state would participate,” he said.

The justices did not make a decision on the case Monday.

South Carolina’s unemployment rate is at 4.2%, according to DEW.

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