THE FIRST African-American woman to serve as a Superior Court Judge in Georgia; the first woman to serve on the Georgia Supreme Court; the first African-American woman Chief Justice; the first woman to win a contested state-wide election in Georgia (she went on to win three state-wide elections); the youngest person to serve on the Georgia Supreme Court. She was founder of the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys and founder of the Battered Women's Project in Columbus, Georgia. Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears has a distinguished career of firsts and honors.
Chief Justice Sears will leave the Supreme Court on June 30, 2009. She began her judicial career as a traffic judge and leaves as Chief Justice of the highest court in the state. Some say she may be the first African-American female to be¬come a United States Supreme Court Justice. When asked, Sears responds, "It's an honor to be on a list, but at this point that's all it is." Whatever the future holds for Chief Justice Sears, the past is undeniable. She is one of the most accomplished lawyers and jurists in Georgia history. For this first installment of MAY WE APPROACH, we could not find a better jurist to feature. Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears was born June 13, 1955 in Heidelberg, Germany to U.S. Army Colonel Thomas E. Sears and Onnye Jean Sears. The family settled in Savannah where Sears gradu¬ated high school. She received a B.S. from Cornell University in 1976, a J.D. from Emory University in 1980 and an L.L.M. from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1995. Chief Justice Sears worked at the Atlanta law firm Alston & Bird before being appointed to the City of Atlanta Traffic Court in 1985. She was ap¬pointed to the Fulton County Superior Court in 1988. She became a Georgia Supreme Court Jus¬tice in 1992. She has been challenged each time her position came up for election, and each time she won re-election. While Sears has been challenged by groups as a liberal judge, her record demonstrates an abilityto take on all issues with impartiality. In her 2008 state of the judiciary address, she stated, " in judging, there is no place for one's personal views, because judging re¬quires that we look at every issue anew in light of the evidence and the law. In doing so, we must be impeccably impartial and favor no man or cause."
Chief Justice Sears has been involved in family and children issues. Recently she has written and spoken on the importance of strengthening the institution of mar¬riage. She calls marriage "our society's most pro-child institution." In 1999, the rate of births to unwed African-American mothers was estimated by economist Wal¬ter E. Williams of George Mason University to be 70 percent. Maybe her retirement will free the Chief Justice to bean even more vocal champion of social issues. She has said, "as a judge I am often frustrated that I must work within a system designed only to pick up the pieces after families have already fallen apart or failed to come together. We must work to prevent family fragmentation, because the consequences for children and society are severe."