Georgia high court election cancellation headed for appeal

Law Journals

A would-be candidate for a seat on Georgia's highest court on Wednesday asked the state's lower appeals court to step in after a judge this week said the governor had the right to fill the position even though a judge who's resigning won't leave until November.

Georgia Supreme Court Justice Keith Blackwell, whose six-year term ends in December, told Gov. Brian Kemp last month that he planned to resign but would remain on the bench until Nov. 18. Kemp's office then told Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger that the Republican governor intended to fill the seat by appointment, and Raffensperger canceled the scheduled May 19 election for the position.

John Barrow, a former Democratic congressman from Athens, and former Republican state lawmaker Beth Beskin of Atlanta had both planned to challenge Blackwell. They filed separate lawsuits in Fulton County Superior Court saying the election had been illegally canceled and asking a judge to order Raffensperger to put it back on the calendar and allow candidates to qualify.

Judge Emily Richardson on Monday ruled that according to the Georgia Constitution and state law, Blackwell's seat became vacant Feb. 26, when Kemp signed a letter accepting the justice's resignation. Raffensperger was no longer required to hold an election for the seat once the governor signaled his intent to appoint someone to fill it, she wrote.

Even though the effective date of Blackwell’s resignation is after the May election, it is still within his current term, which ends Dec. 31, meaning Kemp has the authority under the state Constitution to fill the vacancy by appointment, Richardson wrote.

Barrow on Wednesday filed an emergency request with the Georgia Court of Appeals, arguing that Richardson was wrong and asking the court to take up the case. Beskin's lawyer, Cary Ichter, said in an email that they intend to do the same on Thursday.

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