Gov. Brian Kemp has announced he will appoint Judge Andrew Pinson to the Georgia Supreme Court when Chief Justice David Nahmias steps down in July after serving 12 years on the bench.
Kemp’s announcement came just three days after Nahmias surprised many in the legal community by saying he would step down with a year remaining on his term as chief justice. Nahmias said he wants to spend more time with his family and said he did not know what the next step he would take in his legal career.
Pinson, a former law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, was appointed by Kemp to the state Court of Appeals in August. At the time, he served as solicitor general heading appeals and multi-state litigation for the state Attorney General’s Office.
“Judge Pinson will bring with him to the highest court a deep understanding of how the application of the law affects the everyday lives of hardworking Georgians,” Kemp said. “He is a brilliant jurist having learned from some of our nation’s top legal minds.”
Pinson, a high school STAR Student and National Merit Scholar, attended the University of Georgia for both college, graduating summa cum laude, and law school, serving on the law review.
Kemp’s swift appointment bypassed the traditional, though not legally required, screening process by the state Judicial Nominating Commission. Typically when a judicial vacancy opens up, interested people apply and others get nominated for the position.
In his statement announcing the appointment, Kemp noted Pinson had undergone the Judicial Nomination Commission review process for his Court of Appeals judgeship last year. But this time the governor took no new applications to fill Nahmias’ seat.
Pinson had been up for election to the Court of Appeals this year and was facing a stiff challenge from State Bar of Georgia president Elizabeth Fite, an Atlanta lawyer. Now Pinson won’t face voters until 2024 in his new role.
Atlanta attorney Eric Teusink, a well-known Democratic lawyer, was among those who vented at both the timing and the appointment.
“Democratic and Republican lawyers have long worked to avoid the overt politicization of Georgia’s appellate courts,” he said. “This detente is being threatened by actions of the Georgia GOP to avoid elections at all cost.”
In an interview, Nahmias said there was “no conspiracy or deal” with Kemp and that the governor didn’t know he was going to step down until Nahmias handed him his resignation letter on Friday.
“I had no idea how he was going to conduct the replacement process or when he’d make his pick,” Nahmias said. “I didn’t talk about any candidates or specific names.”
As for Pinson, Nahmias said he thinks the world of him as an an appellate lawyer and a judge. “I think he’s very qualified to serve on the court,” the chief justice said. “But I had no idea what process they’d follow and had no idea they’d pick him.”
To fill Pinson’s seat on the Court of Appeals, Kemp chose Superior Court Judge Ben Land of Columbus. In 2018, when he was a private attorney, Land was appointed by then-Gov. Nathan Deal to the Superior Court bench.
Fite, whose 2022 campaign for the Court of Appeals judgeship has now ended, said “concerns about lack of experience” led her to challenge Pinson for his appellate court seat. In a statement, she said those concerns “remain and have not been allayed by his appointment to the Georgia Supreme Court.”
Fite said her campaign has now been delayed to 2024 when Pinson faces election. “Eventually the people will be heard on this matter, as they should be,” she said. “I am looking forward to the 2024 elections.”