As part of our ongoing coverage of the 2020 Georgia Supreme Court election, we recently reached out to former Congressman John Barrow to ask why he is running and what he would bring to the court.
The questions are in bold and followed immediately by Congressman Barrow's responses, which are directly reproduced as they were given.
Why are you running to be a Georgia Supreme Court Justice?
I’m running for the Supreme Court in order to bring some balance to the sum total of life experiences already represented on the Court. Justice Benham certainly brought a unique perspective based on his life experiences, and so can I. And that can only help the Court as it serves all the people of Georgia.
What would you to say to the Georgia legal community about why you are the best choice?
I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the finest lawyers in the state, and in all walks of the profession. I shared all the challenges and frustrations of a small town, small firm practice, and did so while litigating against the biggest and best law firms in the state. Lawyers from all different walks of the profession need someone with that kind of experience on the Court.
What would you say to non-lawyers about Supreme Court elections and why they should vote for you?
Non-lawyers want to know that justice will be the same for everyone – that they’ll get the same shake as the bigshots who are represented by elite lawyers in elite law firms. They know they can’t get that from people who’ve never represented them or helped them deal with the real problems of real people in the real world. As a practicing lawyer, local elected official, member of Congress, and volunteer public attorney, I’ve represented more Georgians, in more different ways, than anybody else on the Court. And my years of public service have taught me that non-lawyers want that kind of experience on our Supreme Court.
What would you say your career to this point has done to prepare you to be a Supreme Court Justice?
My career has prepared me for service on the Court in lots of ways. As a small firm lawyer in a small town, I’ve seen all the ways that the law affects real people in the real world. As a 14-year veteran of local government, I’ve seen all the ways that local government – the government that’s closest to the people – can contribute to a sense of community. And I’ve seen how both federal and state laws make that job more challenging. As a 10-year veteran of Congress, I’ve seen how big government and bureaucracy can affect people, and I’ve seen the challenges that partisan politics can pose to constructive reform. As a professor, I’ve renewed my faith in the ability of the younger generation to tackle the problems that are not being addressed by today’s leaders. And as a volunteer public attorney, I’ve seen first-hand how the law can be used by the unscrupulous to prey on the less fortunate. All of these are experiences that can only help the Supreme Court do its job.
Is there anything about your time in Congress that you would point to as an example of what you would bring to the Georgia Supreme Court?
Absolutely! Judges have a more conservative job than legislators. Judges decide what the law is, not what it ought to be. Legislators, on the other hand, have a more expansive role. Theirs is to decide what the law ought to be. If you want to know how someone will approach the role of deciding what the law is, you can’t get a better insight than in how they approach the broader questions of what the law ought to be. If they’re careful and thoughtful in that much more expansive role, you can be sure that they’ll be careful and thoughtful in the much more conservative role of judge. In my time in Congress I had to cast a thousand votes a year on anybody and everybody’s idea of what the law ought to be, and under the most challenging and trying circumstances. And in that role I earned a reputation as a thoughtful and careful legislator, and as the most bi-partisan legislator in the most partisan legislature around. I worked with people on both sides of the political divide, and on all sides of the issues. That willingness to compromise and work for consensus is needed in every school board, every county commission, and in every legislature. And it’s needed on our highest Court. That’s how I will perform my duties as a Justice on the Supreme Court.
Are there life experiences outside of the law that influence your view of the law or the courts?
There sure are. I learned at an early age the role that the law and the courts play in our society. My Dad was the closest thing to Atticus Finch within a hundred-mile radius of Athens. The way he represented everyone with dignity and respect, no matter their color or social standing, made a deep impression on me as a boy. He was in local office during the time of desegregation at the University, and both my Dad and my Mom were outspoken and courageous leaders in the effort to desegregate the University and our public schools. Later, my Dad was the judge who presided over the case that desegregated our public schools – in a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And I was in the first class to go all the way through. So, yes, I got a pretty good education about the law and the courts, long before I ever went to law school.
How does one run in a judicial election? Are there special ethical rules and constraints? What does “campaigning” look like in this context, and what is your approach to running for a judicial seat?
In some respects it’s the same as in other elections I’ve been involved in. The campaign disclosure and financial disclosure rules are the same. And we’re subject to the disciplinary authority of the State Ethics Commission in enforcing those rules. In one respect it’s a little different: As a candidate for judicial office, the Code of Judicial Conduct applies to me just as much as it does to a sitting judge. So I’m subject to all of the limitations and responsibilities of an incumbent judge, but with none of the corresponding advantages. Also, there’s an additional governmental body, the Judicial Qualifications Commission, that has the power and the responsibility to enforce the Code of Judicial Conduct on us. Other than that, my approach to this election is the same as it has been in all of my prior elections to public office – work as hard as I can, meet as many people as I can, and make as many friends as I can.