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Trump taps two to be federal judges in Georgia

The Trump administration on Thursday nominated a Georgia Court of Appeals judge and a U.S. magistrate judge to fill a pair of federal judicial vacancies based in Atlanta and Brunswick.

The White House said Thursday that it would tap state Court of Appeals Judge Elizabeth Branch to fill a Georgia spot on the busy 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

President Donald Trump also nominated Stan Baker, a federal magistrate judge, for an open U.S. District Court judgeship in South Georgia.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported both were likely to be tapped for the positions. Baker and Branch must be confirmed by the Senate before they can assume their respective posts.

U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Johnny Isakson, who vetted candidates and helped name a list of finalists to the positions, quickly made their support known.

“Once again President Trump has nominated two impressive Georgians to fill judicial vacancies in Georgia,” Perdue said in a statement.

“I applaud the president’s choices and look forward to working with these excellent judges as the confirmation process moves forward in the Senate,” Isakson said.

Branch, a Fulton County native, was appointed to the state appeals court by Gov. Nathan Deal in 2012 after working for years as a commercial litigator in Atlanta. She spent four years working for various federal agencies during the George W. Bush administration, including a stint at the Department of Homeland Security.

If confirmed, Branch would replace Judge Frank Hull, a Clinton-era appointee who announced her semi-retirement last month.

Branch attracted attention with a 2016 opinion writing for a 6-3 majority that found “upskirting” — the secret videotaping of a person’s genitals in a public place — can’t be prosecuted as a crime because Georgia’s decades-old laws didn’t account for criminal acts committed with modern technology.

In the opinion, which threw out a felony conviction against former grocery clerk Brandon Lee Gary, Branch wrote that it’s “regrettable that no law currently exists which criminalizes Gary’s reprehensible conduct.” State lawmakers quickly got the hint: Deal signed a measure this year specifically outlawing the lewd practice.

Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who studies federal appointments, said Branch appears to have “checked all the boxes” for a Trump appointee, including burnishing her conservative credentials with the Bush administration.

“She’s the type of appointee Republicans want to see,” Tobias said. “She has a fairly conservative record, and I don’t see any red flags.”

The 12-member 11th Circuit is one step below the Supreme Court and has jurisdiction over Georgia, Alabama and Florida. In the past it has ruled on hot-button issues concerning voting rights, the death penalty and civil rights.

Baker was appointed as a federal magistrate in 2015 after working in private practice in St. Simons and Athens.

The U.S. district courts and the 11th Circuit Court handle thousands of cases in Georgia each year, from high-profile crimes to complex business matters. Baker’s district spans much of east Georgia, including Augusta and Savannah.

Branch’s and Baker’s nominations are part of the third round of federal Georgia-based judicial picks to be announced by the White House this summer.

The Trump administration nominated two of Branch’s colleagues, Tripp Self and Billy Ray, to fill two other U.S. District Court vacancies. Former federal prosecutor Michael Brown has also been nominated to fill a District Court opening.

Former Republican state Rep. B.J. Pak and Albany lawyer Charlie Peeler were also picked to be U.S. attorneys based in Georgia. All five nominees have yet to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Staff writer Bill Rankin contributed to this article.

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