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Stories about Georgia

Georgia Supreme Court upholds canceled election, appointment of Blackwell’s successor

Georgia Supreme Court Justice Keith Blackwell’s seat was expected to be up for nonpartisan election on June 9, 2020. Blackwell announced in February that he is retiring on November 18. At that time, the state supreme court announced that Governor Brian Kemp (R) would appoint Blackwell’s replacement. The appointment was challenged in court, and the state supreme court ruled in a 6-2 opinion on May 14 that Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) could not be compelled to hold the election.
Former Congressman John Barrow (D) and former state Representative Beth Beskin (R), who had both planned on running for Blackwell’s seat, filed separate lawsuits in Fulton County Superior Court in March. They asked the court to order Secretary of State Raffensperger to put the election back on the calendar. On March 16, Judge Emily Richardson denied Barrow’s and Beskin’s petitions, holding the secretary of state was not “under a statutory legal duty to hold qualifications for Justice Blackwell’s seat.”
Barrow and Beskin appealed Judge Richardson’s ruling. The appeal was transferred to the Georgia Supreme Court and granted an expedited review. Five of the eight sitting justices recused themselves and were replaced by substitute justices. Chief Justice Harold Melton, Presiding Justice David Nahmias, and Justice Sarah Warren did not recuse themselves.
On May 14, the court ruled in a 6-2 opinion that the governor may appoint a successor and that the secretary of state could not be compelled to hold an election. Presiding Justice Nahmias wrote for the majority, “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.”
Two of the substitute justices—Ocmulgee Circuit Superior Court Judge Brenda Holbert Trammell and Fayette Circuit Superior Court Judge Scott Ballard—dissented. In her dissent, Trammell wrote “an appointment is unlawful in this circumstance.”
Blackwell’s seat will be filled using assisted appointment, where the governor chooses an appointee from a list of candidates compiled by the Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC). Blackwell’s replacement will be Gov. Kemp’s second nominee to the nine-member supreme court.
The terms of Justices Charlie Bethel and Sarah Warren will expire on December 31, 2020. The two seats are up for nonpartisan election on June 9.


Three of nine candidates in crowded Republican primary for Georgia’s 9th District seat have completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey

Earlier this week, Ethan Underwood, a candidate running in the Republican primary for Georgia’s 9th Congressional District, completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey. He joins Michael Boggus and Maria Strickland, both of whom previously completed surveys.

Ballotpedia asks all federal, state, and local candidates to complete a survey so voters can discover what motivates them on political and personal levels.

One question asks candidates to list three key messages of their campaigns. Here is one response from each candidate.

Underwood: “I understand the law, knows [sic] how to navigate the political process, and will not back down until we create solutions.” Read Underwood’s full survey responses here.

Boggus: “Stopping government overreach and spending.” Read Boggus’ full survey responses here.

Strickland: “Stop sending career politicians to Washington and expecting a different outcome.” Read Strickland’s full survey responses here.

In 2018, 1,957 candidates completed a Candidate Connection survey. This numbers represents 6.9% of all 28,315 candidates Ballotpedia covered during that cycle. Out of the 1,957 respondents, 477 (24.4%) won their elections.

Underwood, Boggus, and Strickland join six other candidates—Paul Broun, Andrew Clyde, Matt Gurtler, Kevin Tanner, Kellie Weeks, and John Wilkinson—in seeking the Republican nomination to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (R) in the 9th District.


Supreme Court of Georgia extends restrictions on in-person proceedings through June 12

On May 4, 2020, Supreme Court of Georgia Chief Justice Harold D. Melton announced that restrictions on in-person proceedings and the suspension of jury trials would be extended through June 12.
Under the order, courts will be encouraged to develop plans for resuming nonessential court operations that can be conducted through video or phone conferencing or by maintaining social distancing measures. The order also urges judges to use technology for conducting remote proceedings as an alternative to in-person. In addition, the court announced that Chief Justice Melton will create a task force to assist courts with remote proceedings and to develop reopening plans so that in-court business can resume safely.
Ballotpedia is tracking how state courts are responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
Other recent updates include:
Arizona –  Arizona’s COVID-19 Continuity of Court Operations During a Public Health Emergency Workgroup released a memo outlining recommendations for best practices to reopen or restart court operations, such as maintaining health conditions when court operations resume and local transition planning and management.
Arkansas – The Arkansas Supreme Court issued two memos, one for circuit courts and one for district courts, that provide guidance as courts return to in-person proceedings and jury trials following the coronavirus pandemic.
Kansas – The Kansas Supreme Court issued two administrative orders, one for counties with stay-at-home orders or orders closing courts and one for counties without those types of orders. For counties with stay-at-home orders, directives include performing essential court operations through video or phone conferencing to the greatest extent possible and allowing chief judges to authorize employees to telework whenever possible. For counties without stay-at-home orders or orders closing courts, directives detail what is required to resume court operations, which include allowing chief justices to determine how best to distribute personal protective equipment and recommending that hearings be conducted remotely when possible.
Michigan – The Michigan Supreme Court issued a Capacity Toolkit to help courts in the state plan to return to full operation following the coronavirus pandemic.
Minnesota – The Minnesota Supreme Court extended restrictions on in-person proceedings through May 18. Jury trials are suspended until June 1.


Ballotpedia tracks state legislative races without a Democratic or Republican candidate

Ballotpedia is tracking state legislative races without a known Democratic or Republican candidate in the 2020 elections. As of April 29, 764 state legislative races do not have a Democratic candidate, and 583 do not have a Republican candidate.

The most seats without a candidate from one of the major parties are concentrated in three states: New York, Oklahoma, and Georgia. New York has the highest number; of its 213 state legislative seats, 74 races (34.7%) do not have a Republican candidate. Oklahoma and Georgia are tied with the second-highest at 68 races. Of the 125 seats on the ballot this year in Oklahoma, 68 races (54.4%) do not have a Democratic candidate. Of the 236 state legislative races that are on the ballot in Georgia, 68 races (28.8%) do not have a Republican candidate.

In 2018, 6,073 state legislative races were on the ballot and 2,017 (33.2%) did not feature major party competition. In comparison, there were 2,477 such races in 2016 and 2,606 in 2014.

During the 2020 election cycle, the filing deadline to run for the state legislature has passed in 30 states. Washington has the next filing deadline on May 15.

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SCOTUS issues opinions in cases concerning ACA, copyright, and NYC’s former ban on transporting firearms

On April 27, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued rulings in three cases argued during its October Term 2019-2020. The court has issued 29 decisions this term.

Maine Community Health Options v. United States concerned the “Risk Corridors” program of Section 1342 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The case originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and was argued on December 10, 2019.
  • The issue: Writing for the majority, Justice Sonia Sotomayor defined the issue: “These cases are about whether petitioners—insurers who claim losses under the Risk Corridors program—have a right to payment under §1342 and a damages remedy for the unpaid amounts.”
  • The outcome: The court reversed the Federal Circuit’s decision in an 8-1 ruling and remanded the case. The court held that the risk corridors statute created a government obligation to pay insurers the full amount set out in Section 1342’s formula, that Congress did not impliedly repeal the obligation through its appropriations riders, and that petitioners properly relied on the Tucker Act to sue for damages in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org Inc., a case that concerned copyright law and the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA), originated from the 11th Circuit and was argued on December 2, 2019.
  • The issue: “Whether the government edicts doctrine extends to—and thus renders uncopyrightable—works that lack the force of law, such as the annotations in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated.”
  • The outcome: The court affirmed the 11th Circuit’s decision in a 5-4 ruling, holding “the OCGA annotations are ineligible for copyright protection.” Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts stated that under the government edicts doctrine, judges and legislators “may not be considered the ‘authors’ of the works they produce in the course of their official duties.” The rule applies even if a material lacks the force of law.
New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York concerned New York City’s former ban on transporting a licensed, locked, and unloaded handgun to a home or shooting range outside city limits. It originated in the 2nd Circuit and was argued on December 2, 2019.
  • The issue: “Whether the City’s ban on transporting a licensed, locked, and unloaded handgun to a home or shooting range outside city limits is consistent with the Second Amendment, the Commerce Clause, and the constitutional right to travel.”
  • The outcome: The court vacated the 2nd Circuit’s ruling in a 6-3 per curiam decision, holding the petitioners’ claim was moot because the city changed the ban in 2019. A per curiam decision is issued collectively by the court with no indicated authorship. Justice Brett Kavanaugh filed a concurring opinion. Justice Samuel Alito filed a dissenting opinion, joined in full by Justice Neil Gorsuch and in all but Part IV-B by Justice Clarence Thomas.

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GA, SC, TN announce plans to reopen businesses

The governors of Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee each announced Monday plans for businesses in their state to begin reopening after closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) announced that fitness and hygiene businesses could reopen as early as April 24, followed by restaurants and theaters on April 27. He said bars and nightclubs would still remain closed.

In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster (R) announced that nonessential retail businesses closed as part of his stay-at-home order would be allowed to reopen. This includes department stores, sporting goods stores, and book, music, shoe, and craft stores to reopen, among others.

In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee (R) announced that the state’s stay-at-home order would expire on April 30. He said that this means most businesses across the state would be allowed to reopen on May 1.

Ballotpedia is providing comprehensive coverage on how the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is affecting America’s political and civic life. Our coverage includes how federal, state, and local governments are responding, and the effects those responses are having on campaigns and elections.


Supreme Court of Georgia holds oral argument via video conferencing

On April 20, 2020, The Supreme Court of Georgia held oral arguments via video conferencing. It is the first time in the court’s 175 year history that arguments were held virtually.

Ballotpedia is tracking how state courts are responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

Other recent updates include:
  • Colorado – The Colorado Supreme Court extended its suspension of jury trials through June
  • Hawaii – The Hawaii Supreme Court issued an order extending its suspension of jury trials through May 29 or the expiration of the state of emergency. The order also authorizes local chief judges to resume jury trials earlier.


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