Register and two others file federal suit against Georgia’s secretary of state
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Laura Register of Grady County is one of three plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday against Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger regarding the replacement of retiring Georgia Supreme Court Justice Keith Blackwell.
Register and the two other Georgia voters ask the Court to direct “Secretary Raffensperger to take all steps necessary to conduct the nonpartisan general election previously set and noticed for the position of Justice of the Supreme Court in the seat currently occupied by Justice Blackwell.”
The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division on Tuesday.
The suit points out that two would-be candidates for the Georgia Supreme Court were not allowed to qualify for a May 19 election during the qualifying period.
Former U.S. Rep. John Barrow and former state Rep. Beth Beskin sought to qualify for the seat on the high court bench now held by Justice Blackwell, who plans to retire in November.
But Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger canceled the election at the request of Gov. Brian Kemp, ruling that Blackwell’s seat is vacant because his resignation falls within six months of a judicial election. According to the ruling, that gives the governor the right to appoint Blackwell’s successor.
Register and her two fellow plaintiffs allege, “the only purpose served by Justice Blackwell’s advance notice of his anticipated resignation, and the Governor’s immediate acceptance of that advance notice, was to allow Justice Blackwell to serve for all practical purposes his entire term, but at the same time give the Governor and the Secretary of State an argument (as thin as it is) to cover an otherwise naked exercise of executive power to appoint a Justice that the people of this State are entitled to elect. Georgia law should not allow this but, if it does, since its only purpose is to disenfranchise voters, it violates the United States Constitution.”
In addition to Register, the other plaintiffs are Anne Glenn Weltner of Fulton County and Francys Johnson of Bulloch County. Bruce P. Brown of Bruce P. Brown Law LLC in Atlanta filed the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs.
Would-be candidates Barrow and Beskin have also filed lawsuits in Fulton County Superior Court challenging Raffensperger’s decision. The trial court upheld the secretary of state’s ruling in separate orders.
The state Supreme Court issued an order recently consolidating the two cases and ordering an expedited review.
Under the expedited timetable, Barrow and Beskin were to file their principal briefs by March 26. Raffensperger had until Monday to file his response, and the two plaintiffs were to file reply briefs by Tuesday, March 31.
With the recent retirement of Justice Robert Benham, the court currently has eight justices. Five of the eight have recused themselves from the case, leaving only Chief Justice Harold Melton, Presiding Justice David Nahmias and Justice Sarah Warren. Substitute judges have been appointed to join Melton, Nahmias and Warren in handling the appeal.