A portrait of the current Georgia Supreme Court justices hangs outside the courtroom Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016, in Atlanta. The Georgia House has approved Gov. Nathan Deal's proposal to add two justices to the state's Supreme Court. Georgia's Constitution permits up to nine justices; state law currently provides for seven justices. The measure now will be reviewed by the state Senate. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Photo: David Goldman
Photo: David Goldman

House backs expansion of Georgia’s Supreme Court

Governor Nathan Deal’s push to expand the Georgia Supreme Court won support Thursday from the state House, 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, 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.

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 120-45 vote now sends the measure to the Georgia Senate for consideration.

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