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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- South Carolina lawmakers are set to elect nine judges when they reconvene in January.

The State of Columbia reports (http://bit.ly/U9IKlj) Sunday that the selections will be the largest and most contested judicial election in almost two decades.

To relieve the state's massive backlog of cases, legislators earlier this year created three Circuit Court positions and six Family Court judgeships. Nearly 60 people applied for the positions, and a screening panel has whittled down the selections to 25 finalists.

The Judicial Merit Selection Commission vets the candidates for each seat but only can nominate up to three candidates for each position.

South Carolina is one of two states where lawmakers elect judges to interpret laws passed by lawmakers.

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