March 06 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 6, 2020
Today, Former Congressman John Barrow delivered the following statement on the status of his campaign for the Georgia Supreme Court:
As we know, when Justice Robert Benham decided to retire at the end of his term and allow the voters to choose his successor, I decided to run for his seat.
It was a rare opportunity for the voters to choose a Supreme Court Justice in an open election, something we haven’t had a chance to do since 1982. And it was an opportunity to bring some balance to a court that could really use it.
Then, after campaigning for the job for the better part of a year, Justice Benham decided to retire early. This had the effect of taking the selection of his successor away from the voters and giving it to Governor Brian Kemp.
And, because his seat will be vacant before the next election for his office, the Georgia Constitution provides that the Governor’s appointee will be able to serve for over 2 full years before having to face the voters and run for a full 6-year term.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized how important it is to fight on. I thought there was a need for more balance on the Court before this, and I know that need is even greater now.
For a number of reasons, I decided to challenge Justice Keith Blackwell. Well, just last Friday, on the eve of qualifying for his next term, Blackwell decided to resign. Only he’s not going to resign until November – over 8 months from now, and 6 months after the election to choose his successor.
Governor Kemp has now decided that this creates a “current vacancy” that he can fill by appointment, and so he has called off this election, too. I don’t think he has the right to do that, and I’m determined to fight it.
Although there may not seem to be much difference between Benham’s case and Blackwell’s case, there is a huge difference. Benham’s case is within the rules. Blackwell’s case is different — it breaks just about every rule in the book.
To name just a few: First, only an “appointment” to fill a “vacancy” can postpone an election. That means both the “vacancy” and the “appointment” have to occur before the election, not after. Second, you cannot make an “appointment” to an office until the office is actually vacant. And third, an office is not “vacant” if it is still occupied by someone.
Benham’s case satisfies all of these rules, Blackwell’s case violates every one of them.
So far as we know, this is unprecedented. We know of no case where an election has been cancelled in order to fill a future vacancy in that office – a vacancy that will not happen until after the election.
There’s a reason why this has never been done before. The legislative history of the “two free years” rule shows that the drafters only intended that power to apply in cases of pre-election vacancies, not in cases of post-election vacancies. In cases of post-election vacancies, the Constitution elsewhere gives the Governor a more limited power of appointment – but only for the rest of the term, at which time the winner of the election for the next term would take office.
I’ve decided to fight this. Yesterday, I filed an action in the courts to force the Secretary of State to allow candidates to qualify for this very important election – and to prevent the Governor from depriving the people of Georgia of their right to elect their judges.
Our Constitution gives the people the power to elect our Supreme Court. And there’s a very good reason why: These are the only state officials who can serve as a check on the Governor or the legislature. They decide what rights we have – or don’t have. In any case, it’s much better for the people to have that power and not need it than it is for the people to need that power and not have it. That’s why I’m running for the job.
For a Governor to cancel an election in violation of state law is the ultimate in voter suppression. Unlike most things we argue over about things that make it harder for some voters to vote than others, this is different. This takes away all the votes of all the voters. And if it can be done once it can – and will – be done again and again.
That’s why this is so important. And that’s why I intend to fight.