Judge to leave Atlanta appeals court, giving President Biden a vacancy to fill


Judge Beverly Martin has informed the White House she will leave the federal appeals court in Atlanta, giving President Joe Biden his first vacancy to fill here.

Martin, 65, said she will retire from the court on Sept. 30 and not become a senior judge as is the custom for most judges on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“I’ve done this for 21 years, and it’s been a complete privilege,” Martin said during an interview. “I’m not sure I deserved the privilege, but I’ve been aware of it every day I’ve been here and I’ve worked very hard to deserve it. Now I’m just ready to do something else.”

Martin, appointed to the appeals court by President Barack Obama, once served as U.S. attorney in Macon and was a judge for 10 years on the U.S. District Court in Atlanta.

With four months’ notice, the White House could have someone ready to take Martin’s place if its nominee wins Senate confirmation by the end of September. In 2019, President Donald Trump acted quickly to replace former 11th Circuit Chief Judge Ed Carnes by nominating Andrew Brasher more than six months before Carnes took senior status.

While in office, Trump filled six vacancies on the 12-member 11th Circuit, tilting it decidedly conservative for years to come. The court has jurisdiction over appeals from Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

Martin has served “with great distinction,” said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who closely tracks judicial nominees. “Filling her vacancy will be important, because the court has five judges appointed by Democratic presidents and seven judges appointed by GOP presidents.”

A slight majority can make an enormous difference, Tobias added. “The clearest example was the court’s 2020 opinion that essentially prevented ex-felons in Florida from voting in the November federal elections and probably made the difference in Trump’s victory there.”

Martin, one of the 11th Circuit’s more liberal members, noted that a person of color has yet to fill one of the court’s four judgeships allotted to Georgia. “I’ve read that the president is committed to diversity, so I’m happy to give him that opportunity here,” she said.

President Joe Biden leaves the room after speaking about the COVID-19 response at the White House in Washington on May 17. So far, Biden has moved quickly to nominate seven people to fill eight vacancies on the nation's federal appeals courts. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

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As for what’s next, Martin said she wants to do what she can to help reduce the nation’s prison population.

“There are too many people incarcerated who shouldn’t be,” said Martin. “It costs way too much.”

This includes many who are elderly, she said.

“Every year I’ve been here I’ve heard the stories of incarcerated people and I go to bed at night thinking about them,” Martin said. “We really do need to reevaluate who needs to be in prison and who doesn’t need to be there.”

Earlier this month, Martin issued a strong dissent to an opinion authored by Brasher that denied Alabama inmate Thomas Bryant’s request to obtain a “compassionate release” under the First Step Act. That statute, which Trump signed into law in 2018, is designed to help reduce the size of the federal prison population.

Bryant, a corrupt former police officer, had served 22 years of a 49-year sentence for running drugs and guns and will be in his 80s when eligible for release. His petition noted that all of his co-defendants who pleaded guilty reentered society 13 years ago.

The decision, Martin wrote, made the 11th Circuit the only one of eight federal appeals courts across the country to interpret the act in a way “that will deprive Mr. Bryant and thousands like him in the states of Georgia, Florida and Alabama of access to compassionate release.”