Cordell Hull Speakers Forum Will Host Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears

Posted: Tue, 10/26/2010 - 11:59

On Thursday, October 28, Cumberland School of Law will host Leah Ward Sears, former Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. Her presentation will be held at noon in the Moot Court Room. This program is free and open to the public.

Leah Ward Sears was chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. Chief Justice Sears, the first black woman to serve as chief justice of a state high court, became the first woman and the youngest person ever appointed to Georgia’s Supreme Court in 1992. She was mentioned as a possible replacement for Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter, but President Obama ultimately chose Sonia Sotomayor.

Chief Justice Sears was born in Germany, where her father, an Army colonel, was serving, then spent the latter part of her childhood in Savannah, Georgia. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in 1976 and her J.D. from Emory University School of Law in 1980. She earned a L.L.M. from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1995.

Chief Justice Sears speaks frequently about marriage, saying that divorce and custody cases make up an increasingly large share of caseloads and that children suffer when they are raised out of wedlock.

As chief justice, she has developed a reputation for persuasion, often winning narrow victories on a court where she is viewed as part of the liberal minority even though she has always called herself a moderate with a strict military upbringing. When she voted to end the use of the electric chair for executions in Georgia, she disputed arguments that the attack on the method was a challenge to the death penalty itself.

When the court overturned Georgia’s anti-sodomy law in 1998, Chief Justice Sears’ concurring opinion enraged the religious right but struck the libertarian overtones that scholars say have defined her tenure. “To allow the moral indignation of a majority (or, even worse, a loud and/or radical minority) to justify criminalizing private consensual conduct,” she wrote, “would be a strike against freedoms paid for and preserved by our forefathers.”

*Biographical excerpt courtesy of