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Blackwell to step down as Georgia justice in November

DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM
DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM

Justice Keith Blackwell on Friday announced he will step down from the Georgia Supreme Court in November, giving Gov. Brian Kemp the chance to appoint his successor.

The 44-year-old jurist said he will leave public service because of family obligations.

“Our oldest daughter will leave for college in only a couple of years, and her sisters will follow not long behind,” Blackwell said in a statement. “I have decided that it is best for my family that I return to the private practice of law.”

Gov. Nathan Deal elevated Blackwell from the Georgia Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court bench in 2012. Blackwell, who graduated first in his undergraduate and law school classes at the University of Georgia, once served as an assistant district attorney in Cobb County. He also worked for the Atlanta law firms Alston & Bird and Parker, Hudson, Rainer & Dobbs, focusing on complex commercial litigation.

On the bench, Blackwell can be an aggressive inquisitor during oral arguments. During his eight years on the court, he also authored a number of important opinions.

Perhaps his most noteworthy was published three years ago, when the court ruled the state is immune from lawsuits that challenge the constitutionality of laws passed by the General Assembly. The landmark ruling struck down a challenge brought by three OB-GYN doctors against a Georgia law that prohibits most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

In 2016, President Donald Trump released a list of lawyers and judges who could potentially be nominated to fill vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court. Blackwell’s name was on that list.

Blackwell's exit in November will give Kemp his second chance to fill a vacancy on the state's highest court. The governor is soon expected to appoint a successor to Justice Robert Benham, whose retirement is effective on Sunday.