A lifelong resident of Manning, John returned to his hometown after receiving his juris doctorate from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1968, launching a law practice that has continued to this day. Always interested in politics and state government, John became secretary of the South Carolina Democratic Party that same year, and six years later was elected to the state House of Representatives. In 1977, he won his first election to the state Senate and has held onto that seat ever since, earning him the title of senior legislator in the South Carolina Statehouse.
Among his many legislative accomplishments, John counts the state’s passage of mandatory-seatbelt and automobile child-restraint laws as among his proudest moments. He also has had an impact on a variety of measures to improve education in South Carolina.
“My motivation when I got into public service was to improve the quality of K-12 education, as well as higher education, and I think we have done that,” he says.
His longtime commitment to public service has earned him recognition from several professional organizations. In 1996, he received the Compleat Lawyer Award from the South Carolina School of Law Alumni Association for outstanding civic and professional accomplishments, and in 2011 he earned the South Carolina Association for Justice’s Founders Award. He has also received honorary degrees from the University of South Carolina, the College of Charleston, Francis Marion University and The Citadel.
John’s current law practice focuses mostly on workers compensation matters, but he also has numerous personal injury verdicts and settlements, including a $1,067,000 settlement for a passenger in a vehicle that was struck by Air Florida Flight 90. That flight crashed into a bridge and the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. in 1982.
Along with his daughter, Ricci Land Welch, John was part of the legal team that successfully handled a landmark hate-crime case, Macedonia v. Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in 1996. That case resulted in a $37.8-million jury verdict against the defendant organization for its role in the burning of the Macedonia Baptist Church in Manning. John handled the closing argument in that case and remembers what he said.
“Well, we wanted to send a message that you do not come into Clarendon County with hate in your heart and you don’t reside here with hate in your heart, doing destructive things that divide people and drive us away from each other instead of bringing us toward each other. As a result of that verdict, we have not heard a thing from the Ku Klux Klan in South Carolina since then.”
John is proud of his reputation for being on the vanguard of social change, both as a practicing lawyer and as a legislator.
“In the Senate, I represent the same kinds of people we represent here in our law practice: the working folks and, as I refer to them, the little people,” he says. “We are looked upon as the lawyers you go to when you need help.”
“I think I’ve made a difference in the lives of people who live here from a legal and a political standpoint—and I’m very proud of that,” he says.