On the Docket: More Judges and More Partisanship

In the wake of the nasty Hunstein v. Wiggins debacle, it appears that certain members of the Georgia General Assembly are looking at ways to rebound from the sting of defeat. Wiggins, a conservative, was handily beaten and apparently revenge could come in the form of “sweeping changes” to the Georgia Supreme Court.

At the behest of Republican leaders, the Southeastern Legal Foundation has begun examining ways to transform the court, including adding as many as two justices to the seven-judge bench and returning the elections to partisan contests, according to the group.

It isn’t clear how much support either approach has, though the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said he doesn’t see partisan elections returning.

Shannon Goessling, the executive director of the foundation, confirmed that the conservative group had been asked by “legislative leadership” and some national organizations to look into ways of revamping the court. She wouldn’t offer specifics about who had requested the look.

This is a really BAD idea for ALL of the obvious reasons. The last thing Republicans in the legislature should do is act like FDR by trying to stack a supreme court. Granted, more justices WOULD lighten the overwhelming caseload. But adding two seats for obvious political gain looks childish and highly improper.

Not to mention, this is incredibly shortsighted. Pragmatically, this could very easily come back to bite conservatives in the butt in the future. It also opens the door to adding judges whenever a party decides they want to stack the judiciary.

As far as partisanship, we saw this year that it certainly exists in the contested races, so I guess I have no qualms with making it official.

22 comments

  1. GAGirl says:

    Horrible idea, stay away from the courts!! Same goes for offices such as Clerk of the Court, Sheriff and so on. If anything we should be lessening the amount of partisanship tied to those offices.

  2. drjay says:

    partisan court races are a bad idea–for most of the other offices i have no problem as party affiliation does say something about the philosophy they bring to office w/ them–i did not like the change to non partisan school board races at all…i have lawyer friends who say we do need more appelate judges, for what thats worth

  3. RuralDem says:

    That’s downright sad.

    I tend to say this quite a bit but sometimes you have to put the people first and the party second. In this case some people seem to have it backwards.

    GAGirl – I totally agree with you. However, it will not happen. Partisans love those letters. Views? Who cares about views when you have a D or R beside your name!!!!!!

    I hope one day we see a Ben Nelson Democrat and a Lincoln Chafee Republican run against each other for a high office in this state. It will be hilarious.

  4. dogface says:

    Agree, partisan races are not a good idea.

    Expanding the size of the court, however, is worth consideration.

    The Georgia Supreme Court’s web site claims they have one of the heaviest caseloads in the country.

    The Constitution of the State of Georgia provides for nine. For some weird reason, two spots have never been filled. In essense, there are two vacancies that Barnes and Perdue never filled.

    Alabama has nine, Texas and Virginia nine, the U.S. Supreme Court has nine. Nine seems a good number.

    Don’t even know if legislative action would be required, except to appropriate $500k for salaries, expenses, etc.

  5. liberty21 says:

    I agree with Dog Face we need to add 2 more judicial to meet standards with the Georgia state constitution, but i disagree with partisan elections for Georgia Supreme Court. I think all state supreme court elections should remain non-partisan.

  6. Shannon Goessling was more or less selling kitchen countertop tile out of her house, no longer able to work for the Cobb DA’s office when Thurbert wiped the floor with her in 2002. Somehow, she landed at the SELF. Republicans in the legislature are seriously off their rocker (or desperate after losing Brantley and Wiggins) if they are asking this group how they should rejigger the Supreme Court.

    This would be the equivalent of asking someone who is not even that good at Madden NFL on Playstation to coach the Atlanta Falcons. Come to think of it that guy might have some value to add…but you get my point.

  7. DougieFresh says:

    It would be nice if they did something about the courts that affect Georgians more directly, like the Superior Courts.

    I have a civil case filed 3 years, that is still waiting to come to trial. We made motions in January that have yet to be answered, and really there is little we can do without risking losing the case because we up;set some petty tyrant judge.

    Do these guys just sit around, play golf and collect a salary?

    If they raise the size of the supreme court, they need to comproimise with the dems to make it one and one.

  8. Michael C says:

    You guys are missing the big picture. The courts have been politicised for more than 40 years. We like to think of our courts as above the fray, and above reproach. The left does not see it this way. They have packed the courts with activists who legislate from the bench on issues the legislative branches have no chance of passing.

    The judiciary is far too powerful when it can direct how legislatures have to rewrite laws. The checks are far out of balance.

    This move by the Ga. GOP is very political. But to think the Democrats have not played the same game for years is naive.

  9. ColinATL says:

    What we’re seeing is an attempt by Georgia Republicans to consolidate power in all branches of government. This is just what we saw with National Republicans in their attempts to pack the courts, to the point where they almost did away with the filibuster to do it. Thank goodness for the Gang of 14.

    Ultimately, such attempts will be rebuffed eventually, as happened with Congress this year, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating when your opponents try to do it.

    Really, by attempting to consolidate all power, the Republicans are ultimately setting themselves up for their eventual collapse, although admittedly, it will take a generation in Georgia for that collapse to happen, in my opinion…

  10. ColinATL says:

    Michael, if Democrats were able to pack the courts without partisan races, why do Republicans need partisan races? I don’t get it.

  11. DougieFresh says:

    Michael C,

    You said:

    “The judiciary is far too powerful when it can direct how legislatures have to rewrite laws. The checks are far out of balance.”

    Did you hear about the District court judge who ordered the federal government to alter paper money to allow the blind to differentiate bills by feel alone?

    I also know of a state superior judge who uses his office to push his one ajenda and actually tells his legal clerks to look for evidence to support his desired outcome, instead of researching the law to support an accurate finding of fact/law.

    Judges are indeed out of control. But, I think it is because legislatures/Congress and governors/the President have abdicated thier responsibilities.

    There needs to be MORE impeachments of judges who try to extend the power of the judiciary, and their needs to be more refusals to enforce or fund judicial fiats. The primary duty of EVERY member of government is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States as well as your local constitution for state officials.

    When an exectutive enforces a court order that destroys the entire concept of the sereration of powers, he is violating his oath. When a legislature grovels before the feat of the court, and passes legislation that is order from the robed ones, they are enabling the problem. How absurd would it be for the courts then order the exectutive officer to throw the entire legislature and himself in jail?

    It is time to use the “good behavior” clause for judicial impeachments a little more vigorously.

    Checks and balances only work when you have people with spines checking and balancing.

  12. drjay says:

    colin actually makes a very good point–1st if the state constitution allows for 9 justices–i don’t see why we would not have 9 justices–but aside from that MOST judicial vacancies–esp. the supreme court are filled by the guv appointing them when someone retires (that is how melton ascended to the court last year) not by election. so it would only take a few terms of gop guv’s to shape the court through these appts as the older justices retire or die as time passes b/c once appted it also seems quite rare that they are then defeated for reelection when the time comes. even w/ the lower courts the open seat seems relatively rare compared to the guv filling vacancies by appt. and again incumbents are hardly ever thrown out of judgeships in ga…

  13. drjay says:

    i think the d.a. in augusta switched parties in anticipation of a possible judgeship being given to him by the new gop guv back in 02 or 03..it has not happened yet but i beleive it was part of the reason for the switch…

  14. drjay says:

    in fact all 7 of the current state justices were originally appted to their seats–5 by zell miller, one by jfh and one by perdue…

  15. Michael C says:

    Colin, I don’t neccesarily agree with this tactic by some members of the GOP, my point in my post is to say that we should not be surprised. The Judiciary is already partisan.

    This GOP tactic will, rightly or wrongly, make up for lost time.

  16. StevePerkins says:

    Before I started law school, I was prone to jump in these kinds of discussions from a partisan perspective. Now though, I realize that 99.9999% of what the judiciary does has NOTHING to do with the wedge issues that have people babbling “activist judges” ad nauseum. Most judicial work is dry and technical and has little to do with your partisan affiliation.

    The remaining 0.0001% is the way it is because the other two branches LIKE it that way. For all their whining, the executive and legislative branches want the judiciary to be there playing “bad cop” for them.

    The clear majority in this country wanted abortion to be legal some time prior to Roe v. Wade (albeit with sensible regulation and restrictions). By letting the court open that Pandora’s box from the bench, however, the legislators were able to see it legalized by the “bad cop” while wailing and moaning about the sanctity of life to their right-wing base. (c’mon… are you REALLY stupid enough to think the legislative and executive branches couldn’t do more to curtain abortion rights if they wanted to?!)

    Poll after poll shows that the majority of Americans are opposed to homosexual couples using the word “marriage”, but they do favor all couples having certain legal protections associated with marriage (health coverage, power of attorney, etc). It SHOULD be legislatures sorting out the details of secular civil unions, but frankly they want the judiciary to play that role so they sit back like chickensh*ts and pretend to be unhappy about it.

    Having a “bad cop” also gives legislators a safety barrier, so they can play legislative games all day long for political gain. Obviously, if you pass a bill that essentially forces any young guy who bangs his prom date to leave the state of Georgia altogether, that is going to be shot down on Constitutional grounds. The fact that it won’t stand anyway lets the legislators fool around with nonsense one-upsmanship to see who can be the “toughest” on predators. In a perfect world of course, legislators would take matters like this more seriously and pass laws that work… rather than screwing around and leaving Georgia children less protected while they play election-year politics, relying on “pedophile loving” bad-cop judges to sort it out for them.

    Bottom line, the system is the way it is because all three branches like it that way. By the way, with 6 out of 7 Ga. Supreme Court justices having been appointed by Perdue or Zell Miller (who’s as much a Democrat as I am a Mongolian), what exactly IS it that anybody’s hoping to see changed by a “more Republican” bench?!?

  17. StevePerkins says:

    One other thought, pertaining to the original post. Appointing two more judges, or two hundred more for that matter, will do nothing to “lighten the caseload”. The justices all decide the same cases… it’s not like they divvy up the work and assign one judge to each case.

    What you’re thinking about is adding more judges at the lower appellate level, to create multiple panels of judges. There can only be one Supreme Court, however.

  18. atlantaman says:

    “This is just what we saw with National Republicans in their attempts to pack the courts.”

    You may disagree with who Bush nominates for the courts, but to characterize it as court packing is a little absurd. They were vacancies that the President is supposed to fill. The only President I know of who actually tried to pack the courts (the Supreme Court) was the most beloved Democrat icon FDR.

  19. Decaturguy says:

    They have packed the courts with activists who legislate from the bench on issues the legislative branches have no chance of passing.

    Can you give me some specific examples (other than empty rhetoric) of this?

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