Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

New Justice Could Swing State's Supreme Court; Harold Melton, the Newest Member, Is Expected to Give Conservative-Minded Justices the Majority

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

New Justice Could Swing State's Supreme Court; Harold Melton, the Newest Member, Is Expected to Give Conservative-Minded Justices the Majority

Article excerpt

Byline: WALTER C. JONES

ATLANTA -- A new face on the Georgia Supreme Court could change the outcome of some controversial cases and give the Republicans a long-lasting victory.

Chief Justice Norman Fletcher retires Friday from the court after 15 years, and Harold Melton will take his seat as a justice until the 2006 general election. It will be significant for a number of reasons.

First, Melton will become the first Republican appointee to the state's highest court in 13 decades. The Washington native was hired out of law school by former Attorney General Michael Bowers and left the Law Department only when Gov. Sonny Perdue tapped him to be executive counsel.

One of his initial duties was to oversee Perdue's lawsuit against Melton's former boss, Democrat Thurbert Baker, who had succeeded Bowers as attorney general. Melton lost that case in both Fulton County Superior Court and the Supreme Court he now joins.

Despite that, the governor chose Melton over two judges and a former Republican congressional candidate who had been appointed, though not confirmed, to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

A second reason Melton's appointment is significant is that he will be the first new member of the court from either party in 10 years. The membership of the seven-person court has never remained constant for such a long period.

Of course, if Justice Robert Benham had followed precedent and retired after his term as chief justice ran out four years ago, there would have been a change earlier, and former Gov. Roy Barnes would have gotten to name a new justice.

Barnes' predecessor, Zell Miller, appointed five of the current justices, and Joe Frank Harris tapped two.

As Fletcher retires, Justice Leah Sears takes his place as chief justice. She has been called a liberal by her last two election challengers. …

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