There are currently 205 Superior Court Judges in Georgia. If Governor Deal signs legislation that passed both the House and Senate last week, that number will increase by 2. One of the two will serve us in the Chattahoochee Valley Judicial Circuit.
Superior Court judges are powerful. We all pay attention when our judges try criminal cases because those cases dominate the news. Far fewer of us notice when Superior Court judges preside over divorce cases, settle disputes about who owns property, hear appeals on local property tax valuations and or direct contributions of funds from class action rulings to non-profits.
Seats on the Superior Court rarely open. Most current Superior Court judges were first appointed by the governor in office at that time. As a result, they were able to "wear the robe" for as many as two years before campaigning to be elected. That two-year period is invaluable for establishing credibility in the office and building the network of donors and supporters necessary for a successful campaign.
This brings us back to the bill adding a judge in our circuit. The bill that passed the House and Senate says, "The initial judge appointed as provided by this Act shall be appointed by the Governor for a term beginning on July 1, 2013, and expiring on December 31, 2014." Once again, the sitting governor will determine who serves on our Superior Court not just 18 months, but likely for the next several years.
I have been told that if you draw a vertical line dividing Georgia and place Atlanta on the right side of the line, Judge John Allen is the only African-American Superior Court judge serving in any of the four judicial districts on the left side of the line. Assuming this assertion is accurate, the addition of a new seat on the bench presents an interesting opportunity for Governor Deal.
As the governor considers who to appoint as the seventh judge in our circuit, he has the chance to not only consider candidates' legal experience; he can also consider their perspective. It is true that the law is the law and is no respecter of person. But it is also true that interpretation and application of the law is affected by perspective. Judges interpret and apply law.
The Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit has grown increasingly diverse over the past two decades and promises to continue that growth going forward. A diverse citizenry deserves a diverse set of perspectives on the bench. The fact that a judge is African-American does not give him or her license to violate the rule of law. However, a gubernatorial appointment of a judge who is African-American -- or any other racial or gender minority -- would likely bring a set of life experiences to the bench that will help inform the collective thinking of our Superior Court as they interpret and apply the law.
Karl Douglass, Columbus native and resident, is a frequent commenter on local, state and federal politics. Follow him on Twitter@KarlDouglass or facebook.com/karldouglass.