Deal names Blackwell to state Supreme Court

Georgia's next Supreme Court justice will be a former prosecutor with strong conservative credentials, including a stint working on the state's challenge to the Obama administration's health care law.

Keith Blackwell, who serves on the state Court of Appeals, will succeed George Carley when he resigns July 17 from the Georgia Supreme Court, said Gov. Nathan Deal, who made the appointment.

"The Supreme Court will benefit from Judge Blackwell's experience on both sides of the bench," Deal said. "His intelligence, many years of experience and dedicated commitment to public service will serve Georgians well in his new role on our state's highest court."

Blackwell, 36, was one of seven finalists recently sent to Deal by the governor's Judicial Nominating Commission. Others on the short list included Superior Court Judges Cynthia "C.J." Becker of DeKalb County and William "Billy" Ray of Gwinnett County.

Blackwell's appointment is not expected to greatly change the court's dynamics with regard to appeals involving criminal cases and social issues, where Carley was often a reliable conservative vote.

But his appointment could tilt the court's leanings in cases regarding tort reform and litigation involving business interests. In civil litigation, Carley often sided with plaintiffs, but Blackwell is expected to rule more often the other way, said Atlanta lawyer Randy Evans, who co-chaired Deal's nominating commission.

"He's a phenomenal choice," Evans said. "I think everyone agrees he's brilliant. He's a solid conservative. He's got appellate experience. He brings all the things you would look for for the governor's first pick on the Supreme Court."

Blackwell, who lives in Cobb County, graduated summa cum laude from the University of Georgia in both his undergraduate and law school classes. After obtaining his law degree, Blackwell clerked for Judge J.L. "Larry" Edmondson on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

Edmondson, the court's former chief judge, said he was delighted with Blackwell's appointment.

"He is a man of great integrity and intelligence," he said. "I am fully confident that he will give excellent service to the state and court."

Blackwell later served two years as an assistant district attorney in Cobb County and, in 2005, he entered private practice, focusing on complex commercial litigation.

After the federal health care law was signed, Blackwell joined a number of private Georgia attorneys who, working for free as special assistant attorneys general, helped file the state's challenge.

He worked on the case until October 2010, when then-Gov. Sonny Perdue appointed him to the state Court of Appeals.

Since 2006, Blackwell has donated more than $3,000 to a number of state campaigns. This includes $500 to Mike Wiggins' failed campaign against Justice Carol Hunstein, who will soon be one of Blackwell's colleagues.

Blackwell, who chaired Lawyers for Deal, also donated $500 to the governor's 2010 campaign.

On Monday, Blackwell thanked Deal for putting him on the state's highest court. "I have given my word to Governor Deal, and I give my word to the citizens of this state, that every day and in every case I will adhere to the high standards of impartiality, independence and integrity that Georgians rightfully expect of their judges."