A judge who sits on the state’s highest court and hails from Sandy Springs has made President Trump’s short list of potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees.
Georgia Supreme Court Justice Britt Grant, speaking at a Sandy Springs Bar Association lunch days before Trump’s announcement, declined to comment on rumors that she was being considered for a federal judgeship. “I hope my future [is] continuing to serve on this court for a really long time,” she said when asked more generally about her future in government service.
Grant also described her conservative judicial philosophy and how it was shaped by the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, which were committed while she worked in the White House.
“I remember from those days understanding our government was under threat,” as was the U.S. Constitution, she said at the Nov. 9 lunch held at Heritage Sandy Springs.
At the time of the lunch, Grant had been named in media reports as on Trump’s three-person list of candidates to replace retiring federal Judge Frank Hull on the Atlanta-based U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and that is the rumor she declined to comment on.
On Nov. 17, the White House announced that Grant was among those added to Trump’s public, 25-person list of potential candidates to fill any vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. The White House describes the list as an attempt to “Make the Judiciary Great Again,” and Trump previously used the list to nominate the newest Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch.
Grant’s legal background includes clerking for a federal judge; serving in Georgia’s Attorney General’s office under Sam Olens and Chris Carr, including as solicitor general, or top trial attorney; and working in private practice. She also worked for current Gov. Nathan Deal when he was a congressman and served in President George W. Bush’s White House in domestic policy jobs.
Deal appointed Grant to fill a Georgia Supreme Court vacancy last year. She took office on Jan. 1 and, along with the rest of the justices, must stand for election next year.
At the Bar Association lunch, Grant spoke about her local ties. She said she is a descendant of the Burdett family, whose “milk house,” dating to around 1860 and preserved on the Heritage Sandy Springs site, is the city’s oldest unaltered structure.
Grant was born at Buckhead’s Piedmont Hospital and attended The Westminster Schools before heading to Stanford Law School in California, which she jokingly described as a “foreign trip” from the conservative Georgia perspective. While working for Olens, she said, she had a “strong desire to sing the praises of Sandy Springs” as he talked so much about his home of Cobb County.
Grant described her judicial philosophy as “separation of powers” and change by “democratic process rather than by judicial fiat.”
“Our job is to respect what the text of the law is,” as well as jury decisions, she said. A big factor in her perspective, she said, is her service in all three branches of government at both the federal and local levels, “when you’ve been in the shoes of the person who had to make that decision.”
Another big influence: the “unnatural disaster” of Sept. 11. “It affected me very deeply based on what I saw and heard that day,” said Grant, who was working in the White House’s West Wing at the time, while her husband Justin — also a Sandy Springs native — worked at the CIA.
Grant recalled that even within the White House, information was scant and no one believed it was a deliberate attack until TV news showed the second plane hit the World Trade Center.
“I remember being in the hall and [hearing] everyone scream,” Grant said. “I even remember hearing [then U.S. Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice saying, ‘Now we know it’s terrorism.’ ”
She recalled CNN reporting that the West Wing had been evacuated, when in fact she and other staff members huddled in a basement room, holding hands and praying. Finally, she said, a Secret Service agent did evacuate them, saying, “You need to run. Ladies, take off your shoes.”
Grant said the attacks reinforced her idea that the U.S. Constitution is something to defend. She said they also were followed by a time different from today’s “polarized politics.”
“Such a comparatively short time ago, we all knew and believed we’re all in this together,” she said.
Grant also briefly commented on some state court and legal issues. She said it’s a “blessing and curse” that Georgia has a constitution newer and easier to amend than the federal version. She also remarked on the high workload of the state Supreme Court, which until recently heard all appeals in divorce cases, among other nationally uncommon responsibilities. She laughingly recalled a colleague on another state’s court excitedly sending her his first published opinion after months on the bench, while she said she wrote about 30 opinions in her first six months.