Last week, a group of plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court claiming that Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s appointments of three new judges to the newly expanded Georgia Court of Appeals violates the Georgia Constitution.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the litigation challenges the governor’s authority in making these appointments, citing that according to the state Constitution, all appeals court judges must be elected to their posts.
Part of the ongoing agenda of Deal’s administration has been to expand the state court system, presumably to accommodate the increasing number of case loads. Earlier this year, the General Assembly approved Deal’s request to increase the number of appeals court judges from 12 to 15. Deal is also expected to push for two additional seats to be added to the state Supreme Court next year. In October, Deal appointed Brian Rickman, Amanda Mercier and Nels Peterson to the newly created posts on the Georgia Court of Appeals, triggering the lawsuit.
Although the expansion of the state court system has been a matter of debate for some time, the lawsuit does not specifically address the newly created seats. Rather, it challenges the legality of the governor’s authority to make the appointments, claiming that the Georgia Constitution only allows for these judicial posts to be filled by popular vote.
Interestingly enough, this isn’t the first time in recent memory that a sitting governor has made such appointments to the bench. Twice during the late 1990s, when the legislature expanded the Court of Appeals from 9 seats to 12, the new positions were appointed by the governor currently in office. However, the current lawsuit condemns this practice as a bad precedent, claiming that these appointments strip the voters of their right to choose them and place too much power in the hands of leaders with possible political motives.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to block Deal’s appointments of the three new judges and to hold the existing seats open until the matter is settled in the courts.