John Barrow

Barrow, Beskin blocked from seeking seat on Georgia’s top court

Two former lawmakers who sought to run for a Georgia Supreme Court seat were turned away this week, triggering a lawsuit against state election officials who blocked them from qualifying.

Former U.S. Rep. John Barrow and ex-state Rep. Beth Beskin both were barred from submitting paperwork to qualify for the seat held by Justice Keith Blackwell, who last month announced plans to resign in late November.

The Secretary of State’s office cites state law that requires elections to be canceled if the governor makes an appointment within six months of an election. The vote for this seat was set to be held in May, when party primaries are scheduled.

But this situation is unusual because Blackwell announced he wouldn’t step down until Nov. 18, months after the May election. Blackwell will still sit on the bench until then, drawing a paycheck and drafting opinions. 

Beskin filed a lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court on Wednesday that asserted that Blackwell’s “mere declaration of an intent to resign” shouldn’t be grounds for canceling the election for his seat. 

“It’s my legal opinion that the position isn’t vacant,” said Beskin, who tried to qualify on Tuesday but said she was told by elections officials the seat wasn’t eligible.

Barrow, who sought to qualify on Monday, declined comment. Once the only white Democratic congressman in the Deep South, Barrow lost his bid for secretary of state in 2018. 

3/29/18 - Atlanta - Rep. Beth Beskin, R - Atlanta, gets congratulated by Rep. Rich Golick, R - Smyrna, after the passage of HB 820, related to property assessments for Atlanta residents. Thursday was the 40th and final day of the 2018 General Assembly. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

State officials pointed to a letter penned by Ryan Germany, the secretary of state’s attorney, who wrote that “the most prudent course of action” was to cancel qualifying because Gov. Brian Kemp intended to fill the vacancy.

If the secretary of state’s decision stands, Kemp’s appointee won’t have to face voters until the next general election in 2022.

This is the second time Barrow and Beskin had sought to run for the Supreme Court but were denied the opportunity. 

Both had intended to run for Justice Robert Benham’s seat when his term expired this year, but he stepped down March 1 rather than fill out his term. That allowed Kemp a chance to appoint Benham’s replacement, delaying that election until 2022.

Blackwell, an appointee of Gov. Nathan Deal, said last week he would step down to spend more time with his family after about eight years on the state’s top bench. 

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