Gov. Nathan Deal continued a transformation of the judiciary on Wednesday by tapping three new Georgia Supreme Court justices and two new judges on Georgia’s Court of Appeals, stocking the court system with young conservatives who are poised to long outlast his tenure in office.
Deal selected Court of Appeals Judges Michael Boggs and Nels Peterson and state Solicitor General Britt Grant for the state’s top bench, signaling a broader shift in the court’s makeup. Republican governors have now tapped six of the court’s nine justices, and Deal is expected to add one more before his term ends in January 2019.
He also appointed state Sen. Charlie Bethel, a Dalton Republican and longtime Deal ally, and Macon Circuit Superior Court Judge Tripp Self III to replace Boggs and Peterson on the appeals court bench.
The wave of new selections comes after Deal easily won approval to expand both the courts. The Legislature overwhelmingly approved his plan to expand the Georgia Supreme Court from seven justices to nine earlier this year, and last year he pushed an expansion of the appeals court from 12 to 15.
The trio of new Supreme Court justices join Justice Keith Blackwell, who was tapped for the bench in 2012, as Deal appointees. With the expected retirement of Justice Harris Hines before Deal’s term expires, the governor will have the chance to appoint a majority of the state’s top bench.
It’s part of a broader remake of the judiciary under the governor. He has selected more than 100 attorneys for open judgeships across the state, and last month he named Chris Carr, a top deputy who headed the state’s economic development arm, to serve as Georgia’s attorney general.
Boggs, who at 53 is the oldest of Deal’s five appointments, has had a winding path to this promotion. He will succeed retiring Justice Hugh Thompson.
President Barack Obama nominated Boggs a spot on the federal bench after negotiating with Georgia Republican U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss over a package of nominees for long-vacant judicial posts. But Democrats blocked Boggs in part because of his vote while in the state House — as a Democrat from Waycross in the early 2000s — to keep the state flag at that time, which featured the Confederate battle emblem.
Peterson and Grant, who are both 38, will fill the two new seats created by the legislation. Peterson was one of three new judges appointed by Deal to the appeals court in early 2016, and he served in several different roles in Deal’s administration. Grant worked in George W. Bush’s administration before joining a Washington law firm and later serving as solicitor general in the state AG’s Office.
The two new appeals court judges also have conservative bona fides. Bethel has served as one of Deal’s floor leaders in the state Senate, while Self, 47, is a member of Deal’s policy-making criminal justice panel.
In a statement, Thompson welcomed the three new Supreme Court justices as “excellent” choices.
“We here at the Supreme Court are ready for them. Their offices are complete, and we are in the process of adding their names to the wheel from which we randomly assign cases,” he said. “They will be able to hit the ground running when they join us in January. We look forward to having them.”
The Georgia Supreme Court is getting three new justices in January 2017. Here’s what the court will look like:
Justice Harris Hines — appointed by Zell Miller in 1995
Justice Robert Benham — appointed by Joe Frank Harris in 1989
Justice Carol Hunstein — appointed by Zell Miller in 1992
Justice Harold Melton — appointed by Sonny Perdue in 2005
Justice David Nahmias — appointed by Sonny Perdue in 2009
Justice Keith Blackwell — appointed by Nathan Deal in 2012
Incoming Justice Michael Boggs — appointed by Nathan Deal effective 2017
Incoming Justice Britt Grant — appointed by Nathan Deal effective 2017
Incoming Justice Nels Peterson — appointed by Nathan Deal effective 2017