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The Jolt: A Georgia Supreme Court standoff unites two would-be rivals

By Tia Mitchell & Greg Bluestein, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

News and analysis from the AJC politics team

In a few weeks, they could be bitter rivals. But at a somewhat awkward event under the Gold Dome, former U.S. Rep. John Barrow and ex-state Rep. Beth Beskin were allies.

Both sought to run for a Georgia Supreme Court seat being vacated by Justice Keith Blackwell. Both were turned away by state elections officials who said the retiring justice’s seat wasn’t actually open.

And both filed lawsuits this week saying the state can’t cancel an election just because Gov. Brian Kemp might make a future appointment to the seat.

Georgia law empowers the governor to appoint judges to fill vacancies on state courts, and the Secretary of State’s office pointed to statutes that required elections to be canceled if the governor made an appointment within six months of a vote.

But Blackwell’s case is unusual, as we first reported earlier this week. The justice announced last week he wouldn’t step down until Nov. 18, months after the May 19 election. Blackwell will still sit on the bench until then, drawing a paycheck and drafting opinions.

Beskin filed a lawsuit Wednesday asserting that Blackwell’s “mere declaration of an intent to resign” and the prospect of a future decision by Kemp to appoint his replacement shouldn’t be grounds for canceling the election for his seat.

Barrow filed a similar complaint targeting Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Thursday and scheduled a press conference at the statehouse to discuss his legal action. It drew several reporters -- and Beskin, too.

She spoke first, telling a bank of cameras that on the “eve of an election” the court should soon act to allow Georgians to vote for who they want on the state’s top bench.

Then came Barrow, who ran for secretary of state in 2018 and called the decision by state elections officials the “ultimate act of voter suppression.”

“Unlike in most cases of voter suppression, you’re not just suppressing some peoples’ right to vote. One side is not doing something to the other side,” he said. “This is suppressing everybody’s right to vote by taking away the right of the people to elect their justices -- and giving it to the governor.”

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