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Former Chief Justice Hopes For Diversity As Ga. Supreme Court Expands

Former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears said she's watching for diverse appointments to the high court.

When former Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears was being interviewed for a seat on Georgia’s highest court in 1992, she said her race and gender weren’t explicitly discussed. But as part of a short list of potential justices populated by other women, and a lawsuit pending against the state aimed over a lack of racial diversity in Georgia’s court system, Sears said it was clear then-Gov. Zell Miller was interested in diversifying the bench in one way or another.

“When I was selected, obviously being an African-American woman, I covered the need for some gender diversity as well as some racial diversity,” said Sears.   

She did not initially support Gov. Nathan Deal’s attempt to expand the state Supreme Court. But now that it’s happening, and with more than 70 nominations to fill the vacant seats, she sees some potential that future justices could reflect a spectrum of race, gender and sexuality.  

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the governor to find the best qualified candidates and of course that will include people who look like the citizens of the state of Georgia,” said Sears.

She said for now it’s too early to guess at which nominees will even choose to advance in the selection process. They still have to apply and be interviewed. A short list of five nominees will then be presented to the governor.

Sears is hopeful that a more diverse court will emerge with the appointment of three new justices, something she said will enhance the court’s legitimacy.   

“When you’re crafting the laws of the land it’s necessary to get a whole host of different perspectives, and one group of people can’t provide those different perspectives,” said Sears.

 

“Everybody sees things differently. People know that,” said Sears, asked whether or not the race or gender of a justice should play into their interpretation of law. She said the inclusion of many perspectives is preferable to “some kind of fantasy” that everyone’s perspective is the same.    

 

The court’s nominating commission, even with the recent addition of State Rep. Stacey Abrams, is dominated by white men, as Justice Sears said it was when she up for consideration.

She said by no means that does indicate the commission can’t weigh the need for diversity while choosing qualified applicants.

“The question is, will they?” said Sears.

 

The high court currently includes one woman and two black justices. She said for the court to expand without becoming more diverse, “would be a terrible, terrible thing for the state or Georgia.”