The Georgia Supreme Court is the highest appeals court in the state. Residents of the great State of Georgia and law students benefit from understanding the current judicial system, and its history. The humble beginnings of the judicial system go back to the 1700s, with honest efforts to provide a solid legal platform, but it was not an easy time for legislators. The early years presented a great deal of struggle. Those with opposing opinions made the wheels turn slowly for creating an appellate court. The initial years were spent focusing on settling matters on a local level. It took many years to form the first Georgia Supreme Court, which has an interesting and storied history. To bring you up to date on the court that is well over a century old, here are twenty things you probably didn’t know about the Georgia Supreme Court.
1. The Georgia Supreme Court is the last resort
Ballotpedia explains that the Supreme Court of Georgia is the last resort for plaintiffs seeking to appeal weighty cases. When the verdict from a lower court is not acceptable to the plaintiff, he or she has the option of filing an appeal. The appeal is forwarded to the Supreme Court of Georgia. They accept appeals at their discretion. If they accept the case, their ruling will be the final decision to close the case. The court hears a range of cases from death penalty proceedings to violations of civil rights per the state constitution.
2. The Georgia Supreme Court is over a century old
The Georgia Supreme Court was founded in the year 1845. As of 2022, the court has been hearing cases for 177 years. The Court will reach its 200th birthday within the next few decades. Through the years, the Georgia Supreme court has heard and made determinations on many legal issues that have set powerful precedents for the current judicial system. If you’re not familiar with the history of the court, it’s something that all Georgians will find interesting, particularly those with an interest in law or public administration.
3. The Georgia Supreme Court has nine judgeships
Have you ever wondered how many justices sit on the Georgia Supreme Court? The total number of seats on the panel is nine. The Chief justice of the court is currently David Nahmias. He is joined by eight judges of the court who were appointed to their seats by a Republican governor. One of the justices was elected as a nonpartisan justice. It’s taken many years for the court to arrive at its current panel size, which offers a diverse set of eyes and ears for a more thorough examination of each case.
4. The Georgia Supreme Court’s election process is not like all other states
The Georgia Supreme Court justices are elected via nonpartisan elections. This is a system that varies from most other states in the union. Only thirteen other state Supreme Courts use the same method for filling the seats of the nine justices. The governor of the state has the option of filling vacant seats via appointment if the vacancy occurs during the middle of a term. There are many reasons why a seat may be vacated, such as illness, death, public scandal, or retirement.
5. The Georgia Supreme Court’s headquarters is in Atlanta, Georgia
The Supreme Court of Georgia convenes at its quarters in Atlanta, Georgia. The court sits for a total of three terms throughout each calendar year. The first term begins on the first Monday in December and concludes on March 31st. The second term begins on the first Monday in April and concludes on the 17th day of July. The third term begins on the first Monday in August, and it concludes on the 18th of November.
6. Supreme Court Vacancies open up appointment processes
Vacancies appearing in the Georgia Supreme Court are filled by a process called assisted appointment. It’s a straightforward process by which the judicial nominating commission, with its eighteen members, compile a list of qualified candidates for appointment by the governor. Five candidates are recommended by the committee. Although it’s preferred that the governor select a candidate from this list, he or she may opt for another qualified appointee.
7. Each seat is essential in the Georgia Supreme Court
Each of the nine seats in the Georgia Supreme Court is essential. If a vacancy appears, an interim judge is appointed to fill the seat. Interim judges appointed at least six months before the next election must run for the seat at the upcoming election to continue serving on the Court. The interim judge is appointed to serve out the remainder of the term for his or her predecessor in the event of a vacancy.
8. The qualifications for Georgia Supreme Court Justices are lenient
Some State Supreme Courts have a long list of requirements that must be satisfied to qualify to run for election to the Supreme Court. Georgia’s requirements are more lenient than most other states. The two mandates for qualification are that the candidate was admitted to practice law for a minimum of seven years, and the candidate must be a resident of Georgia. An example of the leniency in the qualifications is that, unlike many other states, Georgia has not set an age limit for its Supreme court justices. Most other states set mandatory retirement ages.
9. Chief Justice appointment differs from most other states
Georgia has a unique process for appointing the Chief justice post for its Supreme Court. Most other states use a system of seniority. That is not the case in Georgia. Each state may determine its appointment processes for the Chief Justice. In the case of the Georgia Supreme Court, The court holds a voting round of peers. The justice voted by the group serves as Chief Justice for a term of four years.
10. Terms are for six years
The Georgia Supreme Court justice seats get filled through nonpartisan elections or the governor’s appointment. They set terms for six years. The interim justice must run for re-election at the end of the term to retain the seat for another term. It is not automatic.
11. The Georgia Supreme Court allows the public to watch oral arguments
According to Georgia.gov, the Georgia Supreme Court has accommodated the public with online streaming for oral arguments. If the court is hearing a case that interests you, the government provides the option for viewing the arguments or listening to them through the internet. You may also appear in person to view the process of the oral argument.
12. Some cases may be taken another step
Although the Georgia Supreme Court is the court of last resort, some circumstances qualify for an additional appeal beyond the state level. Federal cases may be taken to the level of the Federal Supreme Court as the court of last resort. These are generally high-profile cases with profound impacts on society with federal implications. The case must involve elements of federal constitutional law to qualify for advancement to the highest court in the land. Cases are not automatically referred to the federal Supreme Court, and a petition must be filed to move the case to the next level of appeal.
13. The Georgia Supreme Court is concerned with State statutes
The difference between the Georgia Supreme Court and the Federal Supreme Court is that the state court is concerned with cases that involved the constitutionality of the state statutes. This is a differentiation that weighs the rights of the defendant under state statutes, to determine if justice has been fulfilled by lower court rulings. The court deals mostly with civil and criminal cases, ruling on questions regarding constitutionality.
14. The Supreme Court of Georgia is bound by a set of rules
The Supreme Court of Georgia has posted an exhaustive list of the rules that govern the activities of the court, and its processes. There are forty-nine items with multiple subheadings that proscribe the processes and behaviors of the court and its officers while in session. If you want to know more about how the justices make their determinations for a ruling, this set of rules lays out the processes involved with considerations that each justice must make when hearing the facts and ruling on their constitutionality.
15. The beginnings of the Georgia Supreme Court’s roots go back to the 1700s
According to Wikipedia, the State of Georgia became ratified under the federal constitution in the year s1788. At this time there was no appellate court. The predecessor of the Georgia Supreme Court was a local court that settled legal matters. It was not until 1799 that the first gathering of judges resembling an appellate court was convened by the Judiciary Act. An annual meeting took place to discuss rules and laws that were questionable at the state level, resulting in a uniform set of rules and laws.
16. The first appellate court was at the county level
No Supreme Court existed in Georgia during the early years of its statehood. In 1801, it was ruled that arguments must be referred back to each county and heard by the local judge presiding. The highest courts were superior courts above the general trial courts, and the situation was less formal than it is today.
17. Proposal for forming the Georgia Supreme Court emerged in the 1820s to 1840s
The judicial system in the State of Georgia evolved slowly and over several decades. Several governors of the State of Georgia urged the development of a Supreme Court to achieve uniformity of the laws to protect the rights of persons or property. There was no stable mechanism in place to assure this until the Georgia Supreme Court was formed in 1845.
18. Circuit Riding judges made the rounds in Georgia
The State of Georgia has a rich and storied history about its judicial system. Achieving constitutional representation was rocky, at best for multiple decades. The original Supreme Court for the state was comprised of three justices. The first-ever court session was held on January 26, 1846, in Talbotton, Georgia, under a riding circuit format involving court held at multiple locations through the superior court systems in the state.
19. The first justices had to pay for their travel
The first Supreme Court justices for the state of Georgia were required to pay for their travel expenses. They traveled from one location to another to hear cases. The first three justices were Hiram Warner, Eugenius A. Nisbet, and Joseph Henry Lumpkin. Each was paid an annual salary of $2,500 per year.
20. It took a decade to form the Georgia Supreme Court
From the time that the state Constitution was amended to authorize a supreme court, to the day that the entity was formed, was about a decade. The amendments were ratified and completed in 1835. The first Supreme Court for the State of Georgia did not hold its debut session until January of 1846, nearly eleven years after the court was authorized for development. Numerous state constitutions along with amendments have been created since the first Georgia Supreme Court convened. It expanded from three justices in the 1800s to six by an amendment made in 1896 with a seventh added in 1945. More trained judges were added to diversify the court of last resort for appeals. Circuit riding ended after the Civil War when the established home of the Georgia Supreme Court became Atlanta, the State Capital. It wasn’t until the Appellate Jurisdiction Reform Act of 2016, that more judicial seats were added. The eighth and ninth seats on the Supreme Court panel are recent developments. The Georgia Supreme court has evolved over the decades. It continues to change with the needs of the judicial system through the process of necessary amendments.