Bill Rankin's Legal Brief

The AJC's blog about the courts, crime and law

State Supreme Court declines to halt swearing in of new judges

The Georgia Supreme Court on Friday declined to stop Gov. Nathan Deal from swearing in three new appeals court judges later this month.

The court's ruling was unanimous, with two justices saying they thought

there was little chance of success for an appeal challenging the constitutionality of the three appointments. The suit contended the Georgia Constitution requires the new seats to be filled by election.

The challenge was filed by Fayetteville attorney Wayne Kendall, who represents a group of plaintiffs that include Ken Dious, an Athens attorney who launched an unsuccessful bid for Congress last year, and Georgia NAACP president Francys Johnson.

Earlier this month, Fulton County Superior Court Judge John Goger rejected the challenge, finding the appointments to be constitutional. Kendall then appealed that ruling to the state Supreme Court, asking it to enjoin Deal from swearing in his newly appointed judges on Dec. 29.

Deal’s administration won legislative approval this year to expand the Court of Appeals from 12 to 15 judges, and in October he appointed three attorneys to the new posts: Amanda Mercier, Nels Peterson and Brian Rickman.

On Friday, Justice Keith Blackwell wrote a concurring opinion accompanying the Supreme Court's decision.

"Upon consideration of the limited record now before the Court, I conclude that the petitioners have failed to demonstrate a substantial likelihood that they will succeed on the merits of their appeal," Blackwell said.

Goger's 25-page decision was "thoughtful and reasoned" and he "correctly acknowledged the usual presumption that a duly enacted statute is constitutional," Blackwell wrote, adding that Justice David Nahmias joined the concurrence.

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Bill Rankin covers criminal justice for the Enterprise team.