ATLANTA (AP) — A lawsuit filed Tuesday said Georgia’s secretary of state violated the law and deprived citizens of their right to vote by canceling a schedule election for a state Supreme Court seat.
The civil rights suit against Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was filed in federal court in Atlanta by three Georgia voters. It is rooted in Raffensperger’s decision to cancel a scheduled May 19 election for Justice Keith Blackwell’s seat on the state Supreme Court. Blackwell had announced his intention to resign in November and Republican Gov. Brian Kemp said he planned to fill the seat by appointment.
Raffensperger spokesman Walter Jones declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
The cancellation has already prompted two earlier lawsuits filed in Fulton County Superior Court by would-be candidates for Blackwell’s seat who allege that the cancellation was illegal. A judge ruled that Raffensperger didn’t violate the law and that Kemp could rightfully fill the seat by appointment. Appeals are pending before the state Supreme Court.
Blackwell continues to occupy his seat on the high court and his resignation isn’t effective until Nov. 18, meaning it hasn’t created a vacancy that the governor has the power to fill, the new federal lawsuit says.
“Georgia law does not give the Secretary the authority to deem an occupied seat on the Georgia Supreme Court vacant,” the lawsuit says. “To call an occupied seat vacant is to confound the meaning of both ‘occupied’ and ‘vacant.’”
That means the cancellation of the election violates state law, and a violation of state law that disenfranchises voters is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process guarantee, the suit says.
But even if state law allows Raffensperger not to hold an election for Blackwell’s seat, that state law and Raffensperger’s actions under that law violate the U.S. Constitution, the lawsuit says.
“The United States Constitution does not require that state justices be elected,” the suit says. “Once the State decides that justices are to be elected, however, the State may not invidiously, arbitrarily, or unreasonably disenfranchise voters.”
The lawsuit asks a judge to issue an order directing Raffensperger to take all steps necessary to hold the previously scheduled nonpartisan election for Blackwell’s seat.
Blackwell, 44, had served two years on the Georgia Court of Appeals before then-Gov. Nathan Deal tapped him in 2012 to join the state Supreme Court. Blackwell appeared on a list of potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees that President Donald Trump made public during his 2016 campaign.
Blackwell said in his resignation letter that he had decided a return to private practice would be in the best interest of his family.