The Georgia Supreme Court ruled in favor the plaintiffs today in Gonzalez v Kemp, allowing the special election for District Attorney in Athens-Clarke and Oconee Counties to continue.
In a unanimous verdict, the Supreme Court struck down HB 907, the 2018 law which previously allowed the Governor to cancel elections for District Attorney in Georgia. Governor Brian Kemp made use of this extraordinary power this year to prevent Deborah Gonzalez from facing off against Brian Patterson in the Democratic primary.
When Kemp attempted to cancel the general election in November as well, Gonzalez sued Kemp alongside four other residents of Athens and Oconee, starting a months long battle in the courts for the right of voters to select their own District Attorney.
That battle has now concluded with the court’s unanimous decision, written by Chief Justice Harold Melton. According to Melton, “the timing of the election for a successor to an office is tied to the specific term for the office as measured by the Constitution.” Since “the General Assembly does not have the authority to extend the terms of appointed district attorneys,” HB 907, as written, is unconstitutional.
The term for District Attorney is set at four years in the Georgia Constitution. Since HB 907 allows Governor-appointees to serve longer than this by bypassing elections, the law does not hold up to constitutional scrutiny.
Gonzalez is celebrating this decision on social media. She faces two opponents in the 2020 election for District Attorney, which is now official — the winner will become the next District Attorney with interference from Governor Kemp no longer being possible.
Despite presumably having just as much to gain from this election going forward as Gonzalez, neither Brian Patterson nor James Chafin stepped up as plaintiffs or donated to support the effort. Both have remained quiet throughout the lawsuit.