Two candidates are challenging the cancelation of an election to fill a Georgia Supreme Court vacancy. The election was previously scheduled for May 19, 2020, to fill Justice Keith Blackwell’s seat, but it was canceled after Blackwell announced he was retiring, effective November 18, 2020. A statement from the Georgia Supreme Court said the governor would appoint Blackwell’s replacement. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) subsequently canceled the election.
Former Congressman John Barrow (D) and former state Representative Beth Beskin (R) filed separate legal challenges in Fulton County Superior Court, asking the judge to order Raffensperger to put the election back on the calendar. On March 16, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Emily Richardson denied the petitions, saying Barrow and Beskin did not show they had “a clear right” to require the secretary of state to hold an election.
Barrow and Beskin both appealed Judge Richardson’s decision. The Georgia Court of Appeals transferred Barrow’s case to the state supreme court, and Beskin appealed to the high court directly.
The Georgia Supreme Court issued an order consolidating and ordering an expedited review of the two cases. Five of the eight sitting justices recused themselves from the case. They were replaced by substitute justices. Chief Justice Harold Melton, Presiding Justice David Nahmias, and Justice Sarah Warren did not recuse themselves.
The Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) received 29 applications to succeed Blackwell. When a vacancy appears on a state court, the JNC solicits applications and interviews candidates. The commission then submits a list of five names to the governor for consideration. The governor is not required to select an individual from that list.