ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s governor has expanded the state Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals by adding five jurists in a series of moves that reduced the representation of blacks on the two courts and the representation of women on the high court.
Gov. Nathan Deal has had twenty opportunities to choose members of those courts since becoming governor in 2011 and has chosen a white person 18 times, according to the Fulton County Daily Report . Primarily because of those decisions, blacks on Georgia’s top two courts, and women on the state Supreme Court, will have less influence when Deal leaves office than when he arrived.
When Deal took office, the Supreme Court had two black members among seven justices, for a 29 percent proportion. Now with nine members, the court still has only two black jurists, for a 22 percent share. At the Court of Appeals, the number of African-American members also has stayed at two while the court grew by three judges to 15.
Lawyer Wayne Kendall said Deal was continuing a pattern of “ethnically cleansing” the judiciary in Georgia with respect to African-American judges. He said the trend has been so discouraging that many qualified African-American lawyers will no longer even apply.
Georgia’s population is about 30 percent black.
A spokesman told the newspaper that Deal and administration officials did not have any comments on diversity on the top courts or Deal’s recent appointments to them.
Criticism of Deal’s record on diversity in the judiciary contrasts with widespread credit he has received for leading the creation of more than 140 “accountability” courts around the state, which help mostly nonviolent criminals recover from addiction and other problems without further clogging jails and prisons.
The Georgia Supreme Court had one woman when Deal became governor. It is expected to have one woman when Deal leaves office, even as the high court has grown from seven to nine seats.
But Deal’s appointments at the appeals court doubled the number of women from three to six, pushing the proportion from 27 percent to 40 percent. Deal also tapped one Asian-American judge, so the overall minority influence at the appeals court grew from 18 percent to 20 percent.
Diversity advocates were hoping for more representation in March, when Randy Evans, former co-chair to Deal’s Judicial Nominating Commission, urged women and minorities to apply for a spate of open appeals court judgeships.
The JNC recommended a 13-member shortlist for the state Court of Appeals, including four women and four African-Americans. The governor chose two white men and one white woman.
Evans declined to comment on the governor’s choices.
In June, the JNC began developing a shortlist for the state Supreme Court. Justice Britt Grant had been expecting confirmation by the Senate to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and Chief Justice Harris Hines was planning to retire.
The JNC in July recommended nine candidates, including five women, one of whom was African-American.
Deal appointed Sarah Warren, a white woman, to replace Grant. He later appointed Court of Appeals Judge Charlie Bethel, a white man, to replace Hines.
Charles Johnson, an advocate for greater racial diversity on the courts, said he can’t fault the JNC for the governor’s picks. The panel, he said, “gave the governor every opportunity to pick a qualified minority candidate.”