Georgia Supreme Court incumbent staves off challenge from ex-lawmaker

Justice Andrew Pinson wins a full six-year term after defeating former U.S. Rep. John Barrow, who centered his campaign on a vow to preserve abortion rights.

Georgia Supreme Court Justice Andrew Pinson, leaning on support from Gov. Brian Kemp and other top Republican officials, staved off a challenge Tuesday from a former Democratic lawmaker who sought to make the nonpartisan race a referendum on abortion rights.

John Barrow, who served five terms in the U.S. House, called Pinson to concede defeat around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Pinson, 37, said he’s grateful his campaign message on “keeping Georgia’s courts fair and impartial” seemed to resonate with voters. He said he appreciated Kemp’s backing and the bipartisan support he received, as well as Barrow’s “gracious call.”

“My opponent tried to make this into an issue-based, partisan race, and people rejected that approach,” Pinson said. “I hope that our victory tonight sends a message to folks who try to politicize the judiciary that the people of Georgia back an independent judiciary — and staying independent from the sort of partisan politics that dominate judicial races in other states.”

Barrow said the election was a “contest between those of us who wanted to speak up on the issue of abortion rights and those who did not want to talk about it.”

“I remain committed to the view that the Georgia Constitution adopted by the people in 1982 incorporates all the rights that we enjoyed in 1982 — and that includes the rights that we had under Roe v. Wade,” he said. “This election did not decide that, and in the final analysis the people will.”

Pinson was the only member of the state’s highest bench challenged in Tuesday’s elections. He was Kemp’s surprise 2022 pick to fill a vacant seat on the court.

Barrow promised to “protect” abortion rights under the Georgia Constitution if elected. He was warned by the state’s judicial watchdog agency that his campaign violated aspects of the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct, which calls for impartiality.

In the lead-up to the election, Kemp touted Pinson as the conservative choice while decrying “partisan politicians in the courtroom.” Pinson said Barrow was a threat to an independent judiciary.

Before becoming a judge, Pinson served as Georgia’s solicitor general. In that role, he helped defend the state’s abortion prohibition law enacted in 2019. Pinson also once clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Several former state justices backed Pinson in his bid for a full six-year term, which garnered $1.3 million in contributions. Barrow’s campaign pulled in just over $800,000.

No incumbent Georgia justice has lost an election in more than a century. Most justices are appointed to the bench, run as incumbents and step down before their term ends. The governor then chooses a replacement who runs as an incumbent and repeats the cycle.

Georgia Supreme Court candidate John Barrow failed to unseat incumbent justice Andrew Pinson in Tuesday's nonpartisan election. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz /

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Credit: Jason Getz /

Barrow, who represented a chunk of south and east Georgia over five terms in Congress, is no stranger to tough elections. He narrowly lost a 2018 bid for secretary of state before embarking on a quest for the judiciary.

The 68-year-old was unapologetic about centering his state Supreme Court campaign on abortion, repeatedly saying he believes women have the same rights under the Georgia Constitution that they used to have under Roe v. Wade. He indicated he would continue to defend his free speech rights in court after a federal judge dismissed his lawsuit against members of Georgia’s Judicial Qualifications Commission.

Pinson staged a more traditional judicial campaign by avoiding talk about issues or cases that could come before the court. He skipped an Atlanta Press Club debate in late April, when Barrow took advantage of having a stage to himself.

A pending challenge to Georgia’s anti-abortion legislation is likely to again make its way to the state Supreme Court. Pinson did not participate in the court’s first ruling in the case in 2023.

The judge has said that “what makes a good judge doesn’t really have to do with partisanship or politics.”