Georgia chief justice to step down in January

The chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court announced Tuesday that he will step down in early January, giving Gov. Nathan Deal yet another chance to shape the state’s highest court.

Chief Justice Hugh Thompson said he will retire after Justice Harris Hines is sworn in as the court’s next chief justice shortly after the turn of the year.

“It has been the fulfillment of dreams,” said Thompson, who has served as a judge for more than 45 years. “I have loved every minute of it and have been privileged to serve with the most dedicated, committed and talented group of jurists in the nation.”

Thompson, 73, a former state court judge from Milledgeville, was appointed to the Supreme Court bench in 1994 by then-Gov. Zell Miller. His exit gives Deal the opportunity to put three new justices on the court in January.

Two new justices will join the bench on Jan. 1 when a new law expands the court from seven to nine justices. By being able to replace Thompson just a few days later, Deal will be able to make a major imprint on the future of the court. So far, he has appointed only one justice, Keith Blackwell, to the high court bench.

On Tuesday, while attending the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Deal said the appointments are particularly important because it is a court of last resort.

“I would hope that whoever I appoint to our appellate courts in particular would be people who could serve for a respectable period of time,” Deal said. “Age obviously is a factor in that. They need to be young enough (that) they can run for re-election, and maybe several times to run for re-election.”

The governor said he wants justices who respect the legislative process and “who understand the role of the judiciary is to interpret, not to make law, and at the same time be willing to take on difficult issues and not just simply sidestep them.”

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