Judicial Engagement Goes Down to Georgia

Anthony Sanders
Anthony Sanders  ·  April 1, 2022

The Center for Judicial Engagement (CJE) advocates that judges should take not just the U.S. Constitution seriously but state constitutions as well. And since each state constitution is different, careful cultivation of judicial engagement sometimes requires a state-by-state approach.  

That’s the idea behind CJE’s State Constitutional Forums, a series of forums on different state constitutions and the need for state courts to enforce them. We began two years ago with a live conference in Minnesota, held a virtual one on Pennsylvania’s constitution during the height of the pandemic, and just recently completed another live conference in Georgia, a state rich in constitutional history. We also have another planned for Michigan this spring. (Check CJE’s website, ij.org/cje, for details.) 

Georgia’s constitution was a particularly interesting forum topic because the state has had about 10 constitutions since 1776, depending on how you count them. Because states often reuse old language even when they adopt new constitutions—and Georgia is no exception—that means questions such as “What is the original meaning of this provision?” or “How do you apply old cases when interpreting reused constitutional language?” frequently do not have straightforward answers.

Watch the Georgia State Forum videos and speakers!

The keynote speaker for our conference, former Georgia Supreme Court Justice Keith Blackwell, walked our audience through these issues and provided some advice for untangling them. He was followed by Georgia appellate attorneys Andrew Fleischman and Josh Belinfante, who provided great ideas on how to get the state’s courts to take Georgia’s constitution
more seriously.

We ended with a delightful panel on unenumerated rights. Judge Stephen Dillard, chief judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals, and Gerry Weber of the Southern Center for Human Rights, joined with me to discuss Georgia’s long history of protecting all manner of rights. This included analyzing Georgia’s “Baby Ninth Amendment,” a provision that explicitly recognizes rights outside those explicitly listed in the state constitution, similar to the Ninth Amendment in the federal Bill of Rights.  

IJ has been part of an ongoing conversation in Georgia about its constitution with several past and ongoing cases. The engagement we received has given us hope that the future of judicial engagement in the Peach State is strong.

Anthony Sanders is director of IJ’s Center for Judicial Engagement. 

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