Nathan Deal Judicial Center in Atlanta
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The Georgia Supreme Court Thursday ruled unconstitutional a state law that allows a district attorney appointed by the governor to serve beyond the remainder of the unexpired four-year term of the prior district attorney without an election.
Credit: Beau Evans

Voters in Clarke and Oconee counties will have the opportunity Nov. 3 to elect a district attorney for the Western Judicial Circuit instead of having to wait until November 2022.

The Georgia Supreme Court Thursday ruled unconstitutional a state law that allows a district attorney appointed by the governor to serve beyond the remainder of the unexpired four-year term of the prior district attorney without an election.

Former state Rep. Deborah Gonzalez filed paperwork to run for the post after former District Attorney Ken Mauldin resigned last February and Brian Patterson took over on an acting basis.

But Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger ruled Gonzalez could not run because the next election for that position isn’t scheduled until two years from now.

Deborah Gonzalez with her husband Bob Scott
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D.A. candidate Deborah Gonzalez with her husband Robert Scott.
Credit: Deborah for D.A.

Gonzalez and four other registered voters sued Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp in federal court in May. The court sided with Gonzalez, ruling the Georgia Constitution “requires the appointed district attorney to run for re-election at the general election prior to the expiration of the existing term of office.”

Kemp and Raffensperger appealed to the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which referred the case to the Georgia Supreme Court.

In Thursday’s ruling, the court declared the state law violates Paragraph I (a) of the 1983 Georgia Constitution.

“The final sentence of Paragraph I (a) says simply, ‘Vacancies shall be filled by appointment of the governor.’ It does not say appointments to fill vacancies do anything to change the existing, four-year term of office held by the district attorney who vacated the office before the end of that term,” Chief Justice Harold Melton wrote for the court.

“Accordingly, when the governor’s appointee fills a vacancy in an office of district attorney, he or she steps only into the remainder of the unexpired fixed four-year term for the office.”