Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Leah Ward Sears: Georgia's first black female chief justice

Before I came across a recent Yahoo! News report on her, I'd never heard of the Honorable Leah Ward Sears, who is now the state of Georgia's first ever Black female Supreme Court Chief Justice. And she's an outspoken one at that. Or, as Yahoo! says in its headline, "Georgia gets distinct, and controversial, voice as chief justice."
Ward Sears
In doing a little bit of online research on her, I learned that she has been quite the pioneer and pacesetter. According to the Georgia Supreme Court Website, Ward Sears was the first Black woman to serve as Superior Court Judge in Georgia, and in 1992, she was the youngest person ever appoined to the Supreme Court. When she won her election and retained her seat on the court (since Supreme Court judges in Georgia must submit to the ballot), she became the first woman ever to win a contested statewide election in Georgia! (She isn't, however, the first Black Chief Justice; her fellow judge, Robert Benham, achieved that honor in 1997 and held the position until 2001.)

Despite the general conservatism of the former Confederate state, Justice Ward Sears appears to be quite progressive. In fact, her critics consider her "too liberal," though conversely she angered some civil rights leaders when she invited US Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas to attend her swearing in. They supposedly have fostered a friendship despite profoundly divergent political and judicial views. In his brief remarks at her elevation, Thomas actually praised the generation of activists such as former Atlanta mayor and UN Ambassador Andrew Young and Julian Bond, who made Ward Sears ascension to this post possible. Sears, for her part, outlined three aims for her term at the court's helm: "Improving poor Georgians' access to the civil justice system, rectifying what she sees as a crisis in the state's domestic relations caseload, and educating people that the court system's role in government is judicial, not political."

I'm not familiar at all with most state supreme courts, so I'm wondering about other states and the numbers of Black women on their courts, or women of color or people of color in general. Does anyone know of a Website that features this information? I do know that the right-wing woman W Bush just appointed to a federal appellate court, Janice Rogers Brown, was the first Black woman appointed to (by GOP Gov. Pete Wilson) and then elected to California's Supreme Court, and that Constance Baker Motley, the extraordinary jurist and former Manhattan Borough president and New York State Senator, was the first Black woman to be appointed to the federal judiciary, by Democratic President Lyndon Johnson, in 1966. But I'm not even that familiar with the Supreme Courts in either of the two states I spend time in, New Jersey and Illinois. I don't think either is currently seating a Black female jurist.

At any rate, congratulations to the Honorable Leah Ward Sears, and I hope we one day see her on the federal courts, perhaps even the highest one in the land.

1 comment:

  1. It's quite possible now for Sears to replace retiring Justice Souter as a member of the US Supreme Court