It turns out Gov. Brian Kemp can cancel an election and fill a vacancy through an appointment — at least in the case of the soon-to-be open seat on the Georgia Supreme Court.
Last week, the court ruled 6-2 that state officials could not be compelled to hold an election for Justice Keith Blackwell's seat after he steps down, so Kemp could go ahead with his appointment.
This move has opened up the Republican governor to more criticism that he'd rather stack the court with another conservative justice than allow Georgia voters to have their say.
Georgia law allows the governor to fill vacancies when justices leave in the middle of their term. In late February, Blackwell announced he would not seek re-election, but wouldn't leave his post until November, just a few weeks before the end of his term.
Initially a judicial election was scheduled, but that plan was scrapped after a week when Kemp said he would name the replacement himself. This will be Kemp's second court appointment.
When the election was called off, two would-be candidates for the court seat — John Barrow, a former Democratic congressman from Athens, and Beth Baskin, a former Republican state legislator from Atlanta — sued to get the contest reinstated, arguing what Kemp and Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger did was illegal. After losing in state court, they appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, but again the court did not rule in their favor.
"Even if Justice Blackwell's office is not vacant yet, if his accepted resignation will undoubtedly create a vacancy in his office on November 18, his term of office will go with him, and the next six-year term of his office that would begin on January 1, 2021, will never exist," Justice David Nahmias wrote in the majority opinion.
Justice Brenda Holbert Trammell wrote in the dissent that she is not against gubernatorial appointments, as she is one.
"However, in this instance, when the resignation will not result in a vacancy in the office until (originally) almost six months after the election, I cannot in good conscience agree that the election should be cancelled and the will of the people thrust aside as 'fruitless and nugatory,'" she wrote.
Kemp's list of potential appointees has been whittled down to four finalists: Judge Sara Doyle of the Georgia Court of Appeals, Judge C. LaTain Kell of Cobb County Superior Court, Judge Shawn LaGrua of Fulton County Superior Court and Judge J. Wade Padgett of the Augusta Circuit Superior Court.
- Kemp's judicial election cancellation heads to appeals court - The ... ›
- Georgia's governor cancels Supreme Court election - The Fulcrum ›
- Long lines in Georgia may signal voter suppression - The Fulcrum ›
- It's been a busy few days for voting rights issues in Ga. - The Fulcrum ›
The two politicians who want to be candidates for the next opening on Georgia's highest court are appealing a judge's ruling that there doesn't have to be an election.
Their trips to the courthouse Wednesday and Thursday are the latest moves in what has rapidly become a flashpoint in the world of good governance: Republican Gov. Brian Kemp's declaration that he, not the voters, will decide how to fill a not-yet-empty seat on the state Supreme Court.
The law seems to have provisions supporting him as well as those desiring the special election the governor has called off. But the reality is that Kemp's motives are under heightened suspicion since he narrowly won the governorship in 2018 amid evidence that, as secretary of state, he was complicit in an array of voter suppression efforts.
Justice Keith Blackwell, whose six-year term ends in December, told Kemp last month that he was dropping his re-election bid and would resign six weeks early, on Nov. 18. Kemp's office then told the new secretary of state, fellow Republican Brad Raffensperger, that Kemp would fill the seat by appointment so the position should be dropped from the May 19 judicial election ballots. Raffensperger complied.
A former Democratic congressman from Athens, John Barrow, and a former Republican state legislator from Atlanta, Beth Beskin, then sued in state court to get the election back on the ballot on the grounds it had been illegally canceled. They asked a judge to order Raffensperger to put it back on the calendar and allow candidates to qualify.
The two candidates lost the first round on Monday, when Judge Emily Richardson ruled that state law and the Georgia Constitution dictate the seat became vacant Feb. 26, when Kemp signed a letter accepting the justice's resignation.
Even though the effective date of Blackwell's resignation is six months after the election, the judge said, Kemp has the authority under the state Constitution to name his successor.
Barrow's request for the Georgia Court of Appeals to reverse that ruling says the judge is flat wrong. "The Constitution clearly requires a vacancy as a condition precedent to the Governor's power to appoint," his petition says, and the state Supreme Court itself has ruled "a vacancy occurs when the office is unoccupied and when there is no incumbent lawfully qualified to exercise the powers of the office."
Blackwell, 44, says he's returning to private practice to make his family finances cushier before his children go to college — abandoning a rapid rise in conservative judicial circles that put him on the state's highest court when he was 36 and on the list of 21 potential Supreme Court nominees Donald Trump produced during the 2016 campaign.
- Voting rights suits cause budget pain in Georgia - The Fulcrum ›
- Kemp's office responsible for hacks blamed on Democrats - The ... ›
- Georgia's governor cancels Supreme Court election - The Fulcrum ›
- Georgia Gov. Kemp may cancel election, Supreme Court rules - The Fulcrum ›
At a time when confidence in elections is sagging, a particularly odd snafu in Texas this month won't help.
A virtually tied election for a spot on a regional appeals court will have to be conducted again — because officials in two counties under the court's jurisdiction did not put the contest on the ballot.
The election administrators in Cochran and Collingsworth counties, in the rural panhandle of north Texas, both filed papers this week admitting to a shared oversight and insisting they did not intentionally exclude the race from a long roster of federal and state contests March 3.
The new election, which could cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars, will likely be conducted May 26. And it's a virtual certainty far fewer people will turn out than this month, because it will be the only item on the ballot the day after Memorial Day.
It is a special election primary between two Republicans for one of four seats on the 7th Court of Appeals, based in Amarillo, which reconsiders civil and criminal decisions from 46 mostly sparsely populated and deeply conservative counties. The primary amounts to the election because no Democrat is running.
Without the two counties, unofficial results show that criminal defense lawyer Steven Denny leading by 319 votes — out of nearly 92,000 cast — over Larry Doss, who was chosen to temporarily fill a vacancy by GOP Gov. Gregg Abbott.
Records show that about a quarter of the registered Republicans in the two counties, or 890 people, voted in the Super Tuesday primary.
- Prominent Republican speaks out against Texas bill to punish voter ... ›
- Lawsuit: Ending Texas straight-ticket voting creates chaos - The ... ›
- Texas survives suit demanding its elections be subject to ... ›
People who aspire to judgeships in North Carolina but don't want to run on a party line are facing strict new rules and tight deadlines.
The tougher burdens, which only apply to non-affiliated candidates, are part of the state's comprehensive return this fall to partisan elections for judges. Good-government groups say that filling the bench this way is hardly the best option for getting the most qualified and fair people administering justice or for instilling public confidence in the court system.
In fact, the Tar Heel State is bucking the trend as many more states have abandoned partisan judicial elections in recent years than have adopted them. This year, North Carolina is among just 11 states picking all their judges this way. All but a handful of the other states have nonpartisan elections or allow voters to retain or dismiss judges first appointed by their governors.
Starting this month in North Carolina, independents seeking seats must start by collecting signatures from 2 percent of the registered voters in the areas that would be under their jurisdiction. Only if they complete those petitions within four weeks will they be permitted to register for a spot on the ballot. But candidates running as Democrats or Republicans need only pay a filing fee.
The Republican-majority General Assembly voted to switch to partisan elections in all judicial races three years ago. Until now, voters did not see party labels next to candidate names on the ballots, and unaffiliated candidates weren't required to file petitions.
The switch returns the state to the system it used into the early 1990s, when Democrats then in charge of the Legislature moved to nonpartisan elections. After the GOP secured supermajorities in Raleigh a decade ago, they pushed through a series of measures reviving partisan elections for the two tiers of appeals courts and then the two forms of trial courts.
The result, predictably, has been the election of mostly GOP jurists. Although one-third of the state's voters are registered as independents, only a handful of independents are expected to seek judgeships this year.
One of them is Tiffany Lesnik, a divorce lawyer running for a trial court seat in Raleigh.
"What everyone needs to understand is that Independents or Unaffiliated voters pose a real threat to the traditional two-party system in NC and around the states," she wrote in a Facebook post.
"What is most disturbing is that I am running for judge, not state Senate or the House, and why I have to work so hard to get on the ballot for what should already be a nonpartisan position is ridiculous," Lesnik continued. "I am angry, and you should be angry, too!"
- Partisan gerrymander landmark: N.C. court says state districts ... ›
- Dark money plays outsized role in state judicial elections - The ... ›
- A bipartisan appeal for safe, easy voting in North Carolina - The Fulcrum ›