A Fulton County judge has denied two former legislators’ request to open an election for a Georgia Supreme Court seat.
Former U.S. Rep. John Barrow and former state Rep. Beth Beskin 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.
In a decision returned Monday, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Emily Richardson said the seat was legally vacant, citing the same line of Georgia law used by an attorney from the Georgia Attorney General’s Office representing the state in the case.
A section of Georgia law says a state office is vacated as the result of seven different scenarios, including “by resignation, when accepted.” Gov. Brian Kemp has accepted Blackwell’s resignation, so even though he is still writing opinions and hearing cases for the next eight months, the seat is legally vacant.
Attorneys for both plaintiffs plan to appeal the case. Lester Tate, a lawyer for Barrow, said he wasn’t surprised by the ruling, but found it “seriously flawed” because it cited an internal opinion from the Attorney General’s Office.
“An unofficial AG’s opinion is no more than an interoffice memo and it should not trump the Constitution or the ability of the people to elect a supreme court justice,” Tate said in a statement.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.