Georgia: Governor may push for expansion of state’s supreme court; third such push to expand court in last decade

Earlier this year Georgia’s Governor requested and got an expansion of the state’s Court of Appeals from 12 to 15 judges. It now appears in the 2016 session Governor Nathan Deal could be pushing to add new justices to the supreme court as well.

According to this blog post from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the Governor may ask for an expansion of Georgia’s court of last resort from 7 to 9. If so, this would be the third such push in the last decade. In the 2007/2008 session there was a press for a 6-seat expansion.

Then-Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears urged lawmakers not to alter the court, telling them “We are doing well. We are getting it done. We have the manpower we need.” Nevertheless, SR 370 was introduced, providing that there would be a justice elected from each congressional district, effectively increasing the court from 7 to 13.

The second attempt was in the 2009/2010 session when the expansion was tied to additional funding for the courts.

SB 429 of 2010 tied more money for the courts with an expanded Supreme Court. The bill would have added a $100 judicial operations fund fee to all civil actions with the proceeds to be deposited into the general fund of the state treasury for funding salaries of judges and the operational needs of the judicial system. The increase in funding was conditional on an increase in the Supreme Court from 7 to 9 justices and the court of appeals from 12 to 15.

As I noted earlier in 2015 this is the latest in over a dozen efforts in the last decade to expand courts of last resort. The most recent such effort was in Arizona in 2015 which was posted into a House committee at the last moment and nearly cleared the full House.

To put this into perspective for other states (data from State Court Organization):

  • 17 states have a court of last resort consisting of 5 justices
  • 28 states including Georgia have 7 justices
  • 3 states have 9-justice courts: Alabama, Mississippi, and Washington
  • 2 states (Oklahoma and Texas) have two separate courts of last resort. Texas has a Supreme Court that handles civil matters (9 justices) and a Court of Criminal Appeals (9 justices). Oklahoma has a Supreme Court that handles civil matters (9 justices) and a Court of Criminal Appeals (5 justices).