Georgia governor appoints first supreme court justice

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R) appointed Judge Carla McMillian to the Georgia Supreme Court on March 27, 2020. McMillian succeeded Justice Robert Benham, who retired on March 1. McMillian is Gov. Kemp’s first nominee to the nine-member supreme court.

McMillian was a judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals from 2013 to 2020. She was appointed to the court of appeals by Gov. Nathan Deal (R) on January 16, 2013. Before that, she was appointed to the Fayette County State Court by Gov. Sonny Perdue (R), serving on that court from 2010 to 2013. McMillian was previously an attorney and partner with the law firm of Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP. She began her legal career as a federal law clerk for William O’Kelley, judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

McMillian received her bachelor’s degrees in both history and economics from Duke University, where she graduated with high honors, and her J.D. from the University of Georgia School of Law. During her legal studies, she served on the Law Review editorial board.

McMillian is the first Asian-American woman in the Southeast to be on the state’s court of last resort. Upon her election to the Georgia Court of Appeals in 2014, she became the first Asian-American to be elected to a statewide office in Georgia.

If a vacancy appears on the Georgia Supreme Court, the position is filled by assisted appointment. The governor chooses an appointee from a list of candidates compiled by the Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC). The JNC is an 18-member body that evaluates candidates who apply for a state court vacancy. Members are appointed by the governor.

If appointed, an interim judge must run in the next general election held at least six months after the appointment, and, if confirmed by voters, he or she may finish the rest of the predecessor’s term. Benham’s term was set to expire on December 31, 2020. McMillian will not need to run for election until 2022.

Georgia Supreme Court justices are primarily selected by popular vote in nonpartisan elections. They serve six-year terms, after which they must run for re-election if they wish to retain their seats.

Founded in 1845, the Georgia Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort and has nine judgeships. As of McMillian’s appointment, the other eight members of the court were:

  • Charlie Bethel – appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal (R) in 2018
  • Keith Blackwell – appointed by Gov. Deal in 2012
  • Michael P. Boggs – appointed by Gov. Deal in 2016
  • John Ellington – elected in 2018
  • Harold Melton – appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) in 2005
  • David Nahmias – appointed by Gov. Perdue in 2009
  • Nels Peterson – appointed by Gov. Deal in 2016
  • Sarah Warren – appointed by Gov. Deal in 2018

Gov. Kemp is expected to appoint a second justice to the Georgia Supreme Court to succeed Justice Keith Blackwell, who is retiring effective November 18, 2020. The appointment currently faces legal challenges and will be heard by the Georgia Supreme Court. Five of the eight sitting justices recused themselves from the case.

In 2020, there have been 10 supreme court vacancies across eight of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were all caused by retirements.

Additional reading:
State supreme court vacancies, 2020
Carla W. McMillian
Georgia Supreme Court
Georgia Supreme Court elections, 2020
Judicial selection in Georgia
Georgia Supreme Court justice vacancy (November 2020)