Home Part of States Newsroom
Justice Pinson wins court race that became referendum on abortion rights in Georgia


Justice Pinson wins court race that became referendum on abortion rights in Georgia

May 21, 2024 | 9:39 pm ET
By Jill Nolin
Justice Pinson wins tight court race that became referendum on abortion rights in Georgia
The lone contested state Supreme Court seat became one of the primary's most closely watched races in Georgia. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

This story was updated 9 a.m. Wednesday, May 22, 2024. 

A sitting state Supreme Court justice fought off a spirited challenge from a candidate who campaigned on protecting abortion rights in Georgia.

The Associated Press called the race for Justice Andrew Pinson at about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.

As of Wednesday morning, Pinson had about 55% of the vote in the head-to-head race against John Barrow, whose efforts to make the race a referendum on abortion rights turned the contest into one of most closely watched on Tuesday’s ballot in Georgia.

Justice Pinson wins court race that became referendum on abortion rights in Georgia
Justice Andrew Pinson’s official court photo. Courtesy of the Georgia Supreme Court

Pinson was appointed in 2022 by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and will now serve a six-year term as an elected justice on the state’s highest court.

The state Supreme Court has already rejected a narrow challenge to Georgia’s six-week abortion ban, but a legal challenge testing the constitutionality of the law under the state Constitution is still pending in Fulton County.

State Supreme Court races are typically low-key affairs that are officially nonpartisan. But Barrow’s unusual campaign style energized both sides of the abortion debate, ruffled feathers in the judiciary and spurred Kemp to publicly rally behind his appointee, setting aside $500,000 and being featured in a pro-Pinson ad.

Barrow racked up endorsements from organizations like Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates while groups like anti-abortion Frontline Policy Action came out in support of Pinson.

Barrow, who is a former Democratic congressman, sued the Judicial Qualifications Commission in federal court this month after a special committee of the judicial watchdog group sent him a warning letter about his campaign rhetoric, arguing he had crossed a line. The judge dismissed Barrow’s case, saying the candidate’s speech had not been chilled.

Barrow argues he is stating his legal views but not saying how he would rule in a specific case. He argues his statements are protected by the U.S. Constitution.

“This was a contest between those of us who wanted to speak up on the issue of abortion rights and those who did not want to talk about it. The people who have spoken up on the issue of abortion rights agree with me, and so the issue remains to be decided — first by the Georgia Supreme Court and ultimately by the people,” Barrow said on Facebook late Tuesday night.

“I remain committed to the view that the Georgia Constitution adopted by the people in 1982 incorporates all the rights that we enjoyed in 1982 — and that includes the rights that we had under Roe v. Wade. This election did not decide that, and in the final analysis the people will,” he added.

Three other state Supreme Court justices ran unopposed Tuesday.

A Barrow win would not have altered the court’s makeup by much. All but one of the nine justices on the court were appointed by Republican governors. The one exception, John J. Ellington, was elected to the court in 2018.