Expansion of Georgia’s Supreme Court wins final approval

Governor Nathan Deal’s push to expand the Georgia Supreme Court won final approval Tuesday from the state Senate, when members passed a bill to expand the court by two justices.

While House Bill 927 also makes other changes, including how the state Supreme Court and the state Court of Appeals divvy up cases, it’s the top court’s expansion that feature in the bill.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, has presented the expansion as a necessity for a growing state, saying it would help the court spend more time on important cases. Under HB 927, the Supreme Court would expand from seven to nine justices as recommended by the Appellate Jurisdiction Review Commission, which considered the idea last year.

Left unsaid, however, was the influence Deal could have the court’s make-up in the near future: The bill would allow him to appoint the two new justices this summer, something opponents took issue with

“We’re trying to pack the court here…for political reasons,” said Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Tucker, who spoke against the bill during debate.

Deal has already made one appointment to the Supreme Court when he picked Justice Keith Blackwell for the court in June 2012. And, aside from the potential for two new appointments under the bill, a court spokeswoman has said two of the court’s six other current judges — Chief Justice Hugh Thompson and Presiding Justice Harris Hines — plan to retire before Deal’s tenure is up in 2018.

The top court’s expansion, then, could potentially give the Republican governor an opportunity to appoint a majority of the justices to the top court’s bench before he leaves office.

The Senate vote for passage was 36-18. The bill now goes to Deal for his signature to become law.

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