Two lawsuits have been filed against the Georgia Secretary of State over his office’s decision to cancel the election to replace the state’s Supreme Court Justice Keith Blackwell.
Blackwell announced in late February that he would retire in mid-November. In a statement, he said he “decided that it is best for my family that I return to the private practice of law.”
Blackwell’s seat was scheduled to be up for a nonpartisan election in May, along with two other Justices, but because he is technically resigning before the end of his December term, the Secretary of State’s office decided to cancel the election.
The office then barred former Democratic U.S. Rep. John Barrow and former Republican state Rep. Beth Beskin from signing up for the race this week, which prompted their separate suits in Fulton County Superior Court.
“This is suppressing everybody’s right to vote,” said Barrow on Thursday. “This is taking away the right of the people to elect their justices and giving it to the Governor.”
Barrow called it “unprecedented as far as we know,” and a “stunt” that will discourage anyone from considering running for the state’s highest court.
“If any incumbent can say I can retire and take this office away from the victor, who’s going to bother to do that? Who’s going to go to all that trouble?”
Beskin pointed out the constitution guarantees Georgians the right to vote for Supreme Court Justices.
“We are on the eve of an election requesting that the Secretary of State re-open qualifying, allow candidates including myself to qualify for this position and allow Georgians to vote to elect their Supreme Court Justices,” she said.
“This is a complete repudiation and an overthrow of the last vestige of popular control over the judiciary,” Barrow added. “Of the people’s ability to elect their own justices.”
“After speaking with the Attorney General’s office about the situation, our office determined that the most prudent course of action was to cancel qualifying for that seat and did so on March 1, 2020, as we did for the other vacancies that the governor’s office informed us that the Governor intends to fill by appointment,” wrote Ryan Germany, a lawyer in the Secretary of State’s office in response to Beskin and Barrow.
The Secretary of State’s office declined further comment.
The deadline to qualify to run in Georgia elections is Friday.