The Jolt: Kemp stuns with Clarence Thomas protege for state Supreme Court

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The word of Gov. Brian Kemp’s surprise decision to tap a new Georgia Supreme Court justice had the legal community buzzing hours before he announced Tuesday.

Typically, when a sitting justice steps down, there’s a lengthy process before a replacement is picked. But just three days after Chief Justice David Nahmias let it be known he was retiring, Kemp had named his successor: 35-year-old Andrew Pinson.

A rising young star in the conservative legal world, Pinson is a former solicitor general whom Kemp tapped to the appeals court less than a year ago.

To say it set off shockwaves in Georgia’s legal world would be an understatement. Nahmias’ decision to retire on Friday stunned even many of his colleagues; Kemp’s quick replacement was a double-whammy.

It short-circuited what many expected to be a weekslong process that involves applications and interviews. Several prominent attorneys and jurists were preparing to submit their names when they heard the news.

So why did Kemp pull the trigger on Pinson so quickly?

Pinson was well-known to Kemp and his aides as the solicitor general heading appeals and multi-state litigation for the state Attorney General’s office. As one official put it, there was probably no other lawyer in the state that Kemp’s administration worked closer with than Pinson.

He also has the sort of credentials that reinforce Kemp’s GOP bona fides: Pinson clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and was short-listed by the Judicial Nominating Commission for the last opening on Georgia’s top bench.

The governor wound up selecting Verda Colvin to fill that vacancy, making her the first Black female appointed by a Republican governor to the state’s highest court. Because Pinson was seen internally as the runner-up for the gig, administration officials felt they didn’t need to vet him again.

Moving quickly also means outside pressure campaigns had no time to heat up, and assures the nine-justice court would be at full strength when Nahmias steps down in July.

Pinson supporters say he’s a skilled jurist who is essentially apolitical. But expect plenty of backlash to the Pinson pick, both privately and publicly, nonetheless. We heard from plenty of confused attorneys, who also noted that the appointment also neutralized Pinson’s first upcoming judicial election.

Pinson had been up for election to the Court of Appeals this year against state Bar of Georgia president Elizabeth Fite. Now Pinson won’t face voters until 2024 in his new role.

Atlanta attorney Eric Teusink, a well-known Democratic lawyer, was among those who vented at both the timing and the appointment.

“Democratic and Republican lawyers have long worked to avoid the overt politicization of Georgia’s appellate courts,” he said. “This detente is being threatened by actions of the Georgia GOP to avoid elections at all cost.”


UNDER THE GOLD DOME, Tuesday, Feb. 15:

  • 8:00 a.m.: Committee hearings begin;
  • 10:00 a.m.: The Senate convenes;
  • 10:30 a.m.: The House gavels in.


In the state Capitol Monday:

  • Gov. Brian Kemp called for parents to be able to opt-out of masks in schools for their children, even if a school-wide mandate is in effect;
  • The state House passed local district maps for the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education in Cobb County, over the strong objections of Cobb Democrats. “I’m going to be honest with you, this s**t sucks,” state Rep. David Wilkerson said before quickly adding, “I apologize for that.”
  • Sec. of State Brad Raffensperger held a press conference calling for state troopers to be posted at every polling station and election office across the state during elections.


David Perdue sounded a lot like Marjorie Taylor Greene during a recent appearance on the Diamond and Silk Chit Chat, an online conservative show that’s a favorite of Donald Trump.

In discussing Trump’s 2021 ban from Twitter (which followed years of the former president breaking the private platform’s terms of service) Perdue compared Trump’s plight to pre-Holocaust Germany.

“When individual citizens lose the right to a free voice, then we turn into a Germany in 1933, a Russia in 1919, Cuba in 1959 and Venezuela today.”

Perdue also accused Democrats and the national media of being engaged in a conspiracy.

Georgia Democrats responded to Perdue’s comments Tuesday when state Rep. Mike Wilensky, the only Jewish member of the state House, held a virtual press conference to condemn Perdue’s remarks.

“To make a comment like this while running for our state’s highest office shows that David Perdue is unfit to be Georgia’s next governor,” Wilensky said. “David Perdue should be ashamed of his comments — he should retract them immediately and apologize to not only Georgia’s Jewish community, but the whole Jewish community.”


Senate hopeful Gary Black called a press conference Monday in the wake of an AP report detailing more volatile events in Herschel Walker’s past, including Walker being put on a Dallas police “caution list” for “violent tendencies.”

“I’m deeply concerned that we’re about to forfeit control of the United States Senate again under our watch when it could be easily avoided,” Black said, adding, “I strongly believe this is a conversation that should be had now during the Republican primary.”


A new digital ad from Gov. Brian Kemp takes a new line of attack against David Perdue.

The ad accuses Perdue of refusing to join hundreds of GOP members of Congress in calling to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion while he served in the U.S. Senate.

Perdue was not among the 39 U.S. senators who signed an amicus brief in January 2020 asking the Supreme Court to overturn the landmark decision, though he’s supported anti-abortion restrictions and warned that Democrats could send “your tax dollars to fund abortions.”


Billionaire George Soros’ latest investment could shake up the Georgia campaign trail.

Soros, a favorite GOP punching bag, bought $2 billion worth of Rivian shares recently. According to Barron’s, Soros Fund Management now owns roughly 2% of the electric vehicle manufacturer.

That could intensify some Republican candidates’ opposition to the $5 billion Rivian plant planned for east Georgia.

A longtime backer of liberal causes, Soros is a climate activist who frequently invests in environmentally-friendly firms.

He is often invoked by Kemp and his allies in attacking Democrat Stacey Abrams, who has been on the receiving end of Soros’ largesse.


In Washington, the Senate Banking Committee will meet Tuesday afternoon to consider the nomination of Lisa Cook to the Federal Reserve Board.

Democrats say she is more than qualified for the job, but some conservatives say she lacks a background in monetary policy.

If the committee votes to recommend Cook, a confirmation vote on the Senate floor could be scheduled in the coming weeks.


In endorsement news:

  • SEAL PAC, a conservative political committee that supports veterans, has endorsed Jeremy Hunt in the 2nd Congressional District GOP primary and Rich McCormick in the 6th District GOP primary.
  • The Republican Main Street Partnership, a political group that was initially created to support moderates in the party, has also endorsed McCormick, although the ER doctor will need strong backing from conservatives to win in the 6th.


Speaking of Rich McCormick and his need to appeal to conservatives, the agenda for his town hall tonight is full of GOP red meat.

His “Empowering Parents Town Hall” will begin at 7 p.m. at Saint John Bosco Academy in Cumming. A news release from his campaign said he will discuss “parental rights, school choice, CRT, and mask mandates.”


A new Twitter account has popped up promoting the re-election campaign for U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, which the Republican Party used as an opportunity to make a quick jab.

“Feeling the pressure from Georgia Republicans, Sanford Bishop’s campaign ended its decades-long record of not being online and created a Twitter account,” a party spokesman said in a press release.

In reality, Bishop has used Twitter for his official congressional duties since 2011, but he never set up a separate handle for personal or campaign use until now.

Bishop’s campaign has also long been active on Facebook, where the Albany Democrat’s page has 5,000 followers.


Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue has announced a series of campaign tour stops for the week as he stumps for the GOP nomination for governor.

Later this morning, he will appear at the Muscogee & Harris Republican Women’s Luncheon in Columbus then head to Houston County for a meet and greet at a Warner Robins business at 4:45 p.m.

On Wednesday he’ll be in Cairo and Valdosta, and on Thursday he visit Homerville and Waycross. He’ll wrap the South Georgia swing up on Saturday with meet and greets scheduled in Jesup, Douglas and Darien.


U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene will hold a town hall meeting in Cedartown on Feb. 22.

Click here to register for the evening event.


The state Senate was the scene of a bipartisan show of collegial love on Valentine’s Day.

According to Senate rules, it is customary for Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, a Carrollton Republican, to make the motion that the chamber adjourn for the day, our AJC colleague Maya T. Prabhu tells us.

It is also customary that when Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan takes the vote to adjourn, state Sen. Valencia Seay, a Riverdale Democrat, is typically the lone senator to voice support for ending the day while the rest of her colleagues dramatically yell “no.”

But on Monday, it was Seay making the motion to adjourn – Dugan’s Valentine’s Day gift to his colleague from across the aisle.


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