A Fulton County judge will take the weekend to decide whether an election should be held for a soon-to-be-vacant Georgia Supreme Court seat.
Former U.S Rep. John Barrow and former state Rep. Beth Beskin have sued the Georgia secretary of state over cancellation of the race for Justice Keith Blackwell’s seat. Blackwell announced in February that he would resign from the seat as of Nov. 18, six months after judicial elections are held and six weeks before his term expires. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has cited statutes that require elections to be canceled if the governor can appoint a replacement within six months.
Beskin and Barrow both wanted to run for Blackwell’s seat, but they were turned away by elections officials. Beskin has filed instead to run against Justice Charlie Bethel. But both would-be contenders for Blackwell’s seat filed suit, arguing that just because Blackwell intended to resign didn’t mean his seat was vacant already.
An attorney for the state argued Friday that Blackwell’s seat was in fact considered legally vacant once Gov. Brian Kemp accepted Blackwell’s resignation. A section of Georgia law says a state office is vacated as the result of seven different scenarios, including “by resignation, when accepted.”
But because Blackwell is still hearing cases and writing opinions, the seat is not actually vacant, lawyers for Barrow and Beskin argued.
“Gov. Kemp and (Raffensperger) have acted as if this future tender acts as an immediate vacancy which they have the duty to fill,” said Cary Ichter, an attorney for Beskin. “The notion the state can cancel an election due to a resignation that won’t be effective for another eight months … is simply ludicrous.”
Lester Tate, an attorney for Barrow, argued that if the election is not held, it would set a dangerous precedent for justices resigning early and giving the governor the power to choose their successors instead of Georgia voters.
“We would never have an election again,” Tate said. “What really happened here is the kind of shenanigans you don’t see in any Western democracy but in a banana republic.”
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Emily Richardson expects to file a ruling in the case Monday morning. A ruling in Beskin and Barrow’s favor would open qualifying for the race and put it on the ballot for May 19.
Attorneys for Beskin and Barrow are ready to appeal if Richardson does not rule in their favor. After the hearing concluded Friday, Beskin said she was confident in her argument.
“I feel good about my case, otherwise I wouldn’t have brought it,” Beskin said. “It is not something I take lightly.”