Judge Tillman Tripp Self III. (John Disney/ ALM)
President Donald Trump’s pick for an opening on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia is a bow-tie wearing, college football-officiating, turkey-hunting champion, as well as an Army veteran and third-generation judge.
Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Tilman “Tripp” Self III, from Macon, commutes about 80 miles each way to his job in Atlanta—preferably in a Ford pickup with a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and lots of cream.
But he hasn’t had to make that trip for long. Gov. Nathan Deal appointed Self only months ago to succeed Judge Michael Boggs, whom Deal appointed to succeed Justice Hugh Thompson on the Georgia Supreme Court. The governor made the announcement the day after Trump’s election in November. The appointments took effect at the beginning of 2017.
Self was on the shortlist of candidates for the two vacancies on the Supreme Court, created by Deal’s expansion of the court from seven to nine justices. But after filling those jobs, Deal used the same list to fill the openings he created on the Court of Appeals. Thus, Self’s application was for the Supreme Court.
In nominating him in August 2016, his uncle, Senior Probate Judge William Self of Macon, told the story of three generations of judges in the family. William Self succeeded his father, the late Tilman Self, as probate judge. Tilman Self was Tripp Self’s grandfather.
Tripp Self was 12 when his grandfather was elected probate judge. Young Tripp was a sports enthusiast even then and spent his time playing football in the fall and baseball in the spring. But he didn’t play basketball, so in the winter, he spent his after-school time visiting his grandfather.
“I wanted to be just like him,” Tripp Self, now 48, said in December after Deal named him to the Court of Appeals.
Self declined to comment on his nomination for the new job.
Self was 21 when his grandfather died. By then he was at The Citadel—the Military College of South Carolina—on a scholarship. His class rank was nine out of 516, according to his Supreme Court application.
After graduating from The Citadel, he served four years in the U.S. Army, including a stint in Korea. When he finished his Army service, he went to law school at the University of Georgia.
In 1997, he joined the Macon law firm where he had worked during the summer, Sell & Melton. The firm had a mix of cases—some plaintiffs and some corporate defense—and represented the local hospital, newspaper and county government.
“I was a utility infielder,” Self said. “I would do anything they needed.”
He remained there for 10 years, until he fulfilled his dream and became a judge like his uncle and grandfather. He was elected in 2006 and took office in 2007 as a judge on the Macon Judicial Circuit Superior Court. He served there until he moved up to the Court of Appeals last January.
In his application for the Supreme Court last fall, Self gave his own account of himself as a judge.
“I would have one chief goal and a single overriding focus: to make the law clearer with each opinion I write,” Self said in the application. “Additionally, I will uphold the limits that the citizens placed on the three branches of their government in their Constitution. I understand that legislators, not judges, make law. The judicial branch must respectfully, but steadfastly, resist any efforts from the other two branches that would encroach on its Constitutional boundaries.”
In the same application packet, Self’s uncle noted his “excellent reputation,” even in a family of judges.
“The fact that, for all three of us, following our initial elections to the bench, not one of us was ever opposed, I believe evidences the high regard in our community of the Self name,” William Self wrote.
Of course, if the younger Self is confirmed by the U.S. Senate to a lifetime appointment as a federal judge, he who won’t have to worry about elections anymore.