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After considering three hours of spirited argument and a thick stack of briefs, Fulton Superior Court Judge Constance C. Russell had a simple answer to the dispute between Georgia’s governor and attorney general. The issue of whether to pursue an appeal of Georgia’s redistricting plan is, at bottom, a matter of law, Russell found. As such, she concluded, it was a matter for the state’s lawyer — Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker — to decide, despite Gov. George E. “Sonny” Perdue III’s objection. With that, Russell rejected Perdue’s claim that the appeal wasn’t in the best interest of Georgia citizens. The public’s best interest was decided, the judge wrote in a nine-page order released Friday afternoon, when the Legislature passed the redistricting plan and the duly elected governor (Roy E. Barnes at the time) signed it into law in 2001. That plan, Russell found, was “the ultimate expression of our elected representatives’ considered judgment as to what is in the best interests of the people.” Perdue may disagree with that judgment and try to change it through the political process, she added, but may not prevent its enforcement and is duty bound to enforce it. The redistricting plan has been rejected by a three-judge federal panel, but Baker appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. Perdue asked him to drop the appeal, but Baker refused, prompting the governor to head to court. Russell noted that while the appeal could be unsuccessful and the redistricting law held invalid, if it is not appealed, it certainly would not be enforced. Baker, she wrote, was required by statute to decide if the appeal should be pursued. “His decision may not be overturned by the Governor. Our government is a government of laws,” she found. “The current Governor’s honest belief that a different course might be better cannot override the duty of the executive branch to enforce and uphold the laws of the State of Georgia.” Both sides had prepared statements in response to the ruling. Perdue’s statement said, “We regret the Court has ruled in this fashion.” The statement vowed an appeal, adding that “the constitutional question of who decides what is in the best interests of the State of Georgia remains in doubt and still needs to be resolved at the highest level.” The governor is expected to appeal the ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court. Baker’s statement said the AG was pleased by the decision “affirming the independence of the Attorney General in handling the legal affairs of this state” and added that Baker hoped the governor would decide to stop further litigation on the issue. Russell wrote that she found the case law cited by Perdue’s lawyers “of little assistance to this Court.” While the law provides that the governor can direct the attorney general to litigate a case, neither the Constitution nor statutes spelled out under what circumstances the governor could compel the attorney general to cease litigating a case, she added. The law provides that the AG must, among other duties, represent the state in all civil actions and perform whatever services “as shall be required of him by law,” Russell wrote. “Of necessity, what is ‘required of the Attorney General by law’ must be determined on a case-by-case basis.” Baker does not have unfettered authority to control all state litigation by acting as both lawyer and client, she concluded. And, she added, his exclusive authority and jurisdiction in matters of law “can only be controlling if the question of whether to dismiss the pending appeal is an issue of law, as opposed to one of public policy.” And this, she found, was just such a case.

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