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Trump’s short list for high court includes two Georgia justices

Two justices on the Georgia Supreme Court are among 25 names on President Donald Trump’s list of possible replacements for Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court.

And Keith Blackwell and Britt Grant both have qualities Trump may be looking for. They have strong conservative credentials and are relatively young, meaning they could serve on the nation’s highest court for decades to come.

“If the question is whether they are exceedingly bright, exceedingly ethical, very hard-working and driven to do the best they can each and every day, that fits both of them,” said Sam Olens, the former state attorney general. “They also leave out their personal opinions when deciding cases and follow the law.”


RELATED: Isakson, Perdue livid over Ga. judicial pick

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In 2015, Olens picked Grant, 40, to be the Attorney General’s Office’s solicitor general — the state’s chief appellate lawyer. That appeared to set in motion Grant’s meteoric career path to be a jurist.

Gov. Nathan Deal put Grant on the Georgia Supreme Court in January 2017. In April, Trump nominated Grant for a seat on the federal appeals court in Atlanta, which is just one step below the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last month, Grant sailed through her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, and it looked like she would soon win Senate approval. But Arizona Republican Jeff Flake is holding up her vote over his frustration with the administration’s tariffs.

Because Flake expressed no qualms with Grant’s qualifications, it should be just a matter of time for her to be placed on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — unless, of course, Trump has a higher court in mind for her.

U.S. Supreme Court in Washington D.C.

An Atlanta native, Grant attended Westminster Schools and graduated summa cum laude from Wake Forest. She obtained her law degree from Stanford University and was president of the school’s Federalist Society.

Before law school, Grant worked in a number of domestic policy positions under President George W. Bush. After obtaining her law degree, she clerked for Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the District of Columbia Circuit, who’s also on Trump’s high court short list. She then worked for the law firm Kirkland & Ellis in Washington before returning to Georgia to work at the AG’s office.

“I worked closely with Justice Grant on complex cases before she became a judge and know her to be a lawyer of the highest integrity with a brilliant legal mind,” Kirkland & Ellis partner Craig Primis said.

Blackwell, 42, has served as an appellate judge for eight years.

In 2010, then-Gov. Sonny Perdue appointed him to the Georgia Court of Appeals. Two years later, Deal put him on the state’s highest court.

Former Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens had high praise for both Britt Grant and Keith Blackwell. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Blackwell, who grew up in Ball Ground, graduated first in his undergraduate and law school classes at the University of Georgia. After law school, he served two years as a Cobb County prosecutor before entering private practice, focusing on complex commercial litigation.

As a justice, Blackwell has authored opinions in several high-profile cases. Perhaps his most notable decision, handed down last year, held that citizens may not sue the state when trying to overturn a law they believe is unconstitutional. The landmark ruling was based on the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity, which forbids courts to consider lawsuits against the state without its consent.

In 2016, Blackwell overturned the conviction of former Cherokee County high school paraprofessional Robert Leslie Morrow for having sex with a sophomore cheerleader. The opinion noted that Morrow was convicted under a state law that prohibits teachers, principals and administrators from engaging in sex with students. “(T)his court cannot judicially rewrite the statute (and include paraprofessionals),” Blackwell wrote.

“He immediately gets the most difficult of concepts,” Olens said of Blackwell. “His opinions are detailed and extremely well thought out. He’s a very, very bright jurist.”

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