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Chief Justice of Georgia Supreme Court announces surprise resignation; Governor Kemp quickly appoints replacement

2/23/22

By: William H. Buechner, Jr.

The Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, David E. Nahmias, submitted a letter to Governor Kemp on February 11 announcing that he would be resigning from his position at the conclusion of the Court’s term on July 17. Justice Michael Boggs will become the Court’s next chief justice. Justice Nahmias was appointed to the Court by former governor Sonny Perdue in 2009 and won re-election in 2010 and 2016. He was up for re-election again in May. Justice Nahmias’s announcement was surprising in light of the fact that he is relatively young (he is 57), he just become Chief Justice last July, and he previously had made public statements as recently as October expressing his intent to remain with the Court. In his resignation letter, Justice Nahmias indicated that he wanted to spend more time with his family and “to start a new (and perhaps final) chapter of my legal career.”

Justice Nahmias’s impact on the Court and more broadly on Georgia law cannot be overstated. Justice Nahmias has written more than 470 opinions and joined an additional 2,700 opinions. More important that the volume of decisions, however, is the fact that Justice Nahmias has been a compelling intellectual force on the Court and has played a pivotal role in the Court’s increased willingness during his tenure to overrule precedent in order to correct what he and a majority of justices concluded were erroneous decisions. During his tenure with the Court, Justice Nahmias has authored or joined a number of decisions overruling precedent in various areas of the law, including constitutional law, criminal law, sovereign immunity in civil cases and appellate procedure.

Almost as surprising as Justice Nahmias’s resignation is the speed with which Governor Brian Kemp named his replacement on the Court. Just three days after Justice Nahmias announced his resignation, Governor Kemp appointed Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Andrew Pinson (age 35) to replace Justice Nahmias. Although Judge Pinson is young, he already has had a distinguished legal career. Judge Pinson clerked with U.S Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and former D.C. Circuit Chief Judge David B. Sentelle.

Judge Pinson practiced in the appellate section at a national law firm (Jones Day) as an associate before being appointed as Deputy Solicitor General in 2017. Judge Pinson was appointed as Solicitor General in 2018 and was appointed to the Court of Appeals on August 31, 2021. During his relatively short tenure as Solicitor General, Judge Pinson was involved in two significant cases that reached the U.S. Supreme Court. In one of these cases, Judge Pinson and his team convinced a special master appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court to recommend in December 2019 that the U.S. Supreme Court reject Florida’s contention that Georgia was consuming more than its fair share of water from a network of rivers flowing from Georgia into Florida and thereby harming Florida’s oyster basin. On April 1, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overruled Florida’s objections to the special master’s report. In the other case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in March 2021 that two students at Georgia Gwinnett College who successfully persuaded school officials to change campus policies limiting evangelism activities could still maintain a lawsuit against school officials seeking only nominal damages. Judge Pinson presented oral argument on behalf of the school officials in that case. In a third notable case, Judge Pinson represented the state at the Eleventh Circuit appealing a district court’s ruling invalidating a state law that would prohibit abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. That appeal has been stayed pending the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in a case challenging the viability of Roe v. Wade.

Time will tell whether Justice Nahmias’s resignation and Judge Pinson’s appointment to the Georgia Supreme Court to replace him will have any significant impact on the Court’s rulings going forward.

For further information and inquiries please contact William H. Buechner, Jr. at [email protected]