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Extending a Term of Court for the Charter Schools Commission Case

March 30, 2011

The Supreme Court of Georgia today extended the January Term of Court as to a single case in order to take additional time to rule on Gwinnett County School District v. Cox, the case challenging the constitutionality of the Charter Schools Commission. It is a highly unusual move; even the Court acknowledges that it extends the term “very infrequently.” The Court did extend the term to deal with two cases last year, but does not often take this action.

Under Georgia law, there are three “terms” of Court. The terms come to an end on specified statutory dates unless extended by the Court (see O.C.G.A. § 15-2-4). The Georgia Constitution (Article 6, Section 9, Paragraph 2) requires the Supreme Court to dispose of every case at the term for which it is docketed or the next succeeding term.  This is known as the two-term rule in Georgia.  A decision on a case in its second term cannot be rendered in the last 15 days of a term. For 2011, the Terms of Court are:

  • January Term: Begins January 3, 2011 and ends on April 14, 2011 (second term cases must be disposed of by March 30, 2011).
  • April Term: Begins on April 18, 2011 and ends on July 31, 2011 (second term cases must be disposed of by July 15, 2011).
  • September Term: Begins on September 5, 2011 and ends on December 16, 2011 (second term cases must be disposed of by December 1, 2011).

The Charter School Commission case was assigned to the September 2010 Term of Court, meaning the end of the January term is the end of the next succeeding term.

The Georgia Code grants the Supreme Court the ability to change the terms of Court. O.C.G.A. § 15-2-4(b) sets the terms of Court “[u]nless the Supreme Court by rule or order chooses to extend its terms of court.” Today’s order extends the January Term solely to decide the challenge to the Charter Schools Commission. The Court has not set a deadline for when it will release its opinion in the case.

One Comment
  1. J. Clifford Head permalink
    March 31, 2011 11:04 am

    “Extending the term” to hear a post-disposition motion for reconsideration is one thing, but extending the term relative to a single as-yet-undecided case would render meaningless the constitutional mandate that the Court “dispose of every case at the term for which it is entered on the court’s docket for hearing or at the next term” as required under Art. 6, § 9 ¶ 2. When has that ever been attempted? “Infrequently” implies that there is at least one precedent for what the Court purports to do here. Having said that, while the statutory 15 day rule under OCGA § 15-2-4 is good policy, it is certainly not absolutely binding on the Supreme Court. It follows that there is still time to dispose of this case by the constitutional deadline. Still, under our constitution “every” September term case must be decided before the end of the January term. No statute can trump this constitutional imperative. The January term of Court is not being extended for “every” case, so the deadline is the deadline. But that deadline is still a couple of weeks away, so there is still time to avoid a constitutional crisis over whether this appeal has been disposed of by operation of law. And of course, since an affirmance by operation of law does not involve consideration of the merits of the appeal, “extending the term” for a motion for reconsideration would not lie with respect to such a disposition.

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