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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

CBS 46 Atlanta - Sears Takes Oath, Makes History

CBS 46 Atlanta - Sears Takes Oath, Makes HistorySears Takes Oath, Makes History
Jun 28, 2005, 5:50 PM

ATLANTA (AP) -- Leah Sears, who survived an attempt by conservatives last year to block her re-election to the state Supreme Court, took the oath of office Tuesday as the court's chief justice, becoming the first woman to hold that position.

With U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a longtime friend, looking on, Sears vowed to "strive mightily to uphold the independence and integrity" of the judiciary.

According to the National Center for State Courts based in Williamsburg, Va., Sears is the first black woman ever to head the highest appeals court in any of the 50 states, although there have been women chief judges in the nonfederal appeals courts for the District of Columbia, and a Hispanic woman has been chief justice in New Mexico.

Sears will take office Friday.

She is the second black to head the Georgia Supreme Court.

Absent from the ceremonies, held in the chambers of the state House of Representatives, was Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue, who joined in the GOP effort last year to dump Sears from the court, arguing she did not represent the state's core values. She won the nonpartisan race for a six-year term with 62 percent of the vote.

Perdue's schedule showed he was in north Georgia for an open house at a new GBI crime lab, a visit to a Chamber of Commerce and a visit to a local industry.

Thomas, like Sears a native of the Savannah, Ga., area, called the event "a day when my pride runs deep as a human being, as a member of the judiciary and as a Georgian" and added, "I never thought that in my lifetime I would be able to witness a black woman as the chief justice of the state of Georgia's Supreme Court."

Thomas paid tribute to former ambassador and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, who delivered the oath of office to Sears, as a man whose work in the civil rights movement made it "possible for us to be here today in our various capacities and positions to witness this historic event."

He made only a passing reference to the political waiting game over whether there soon will be a vacancy on the nation's highest court.

"As we ended our term at our Supreme Court -- at your Supreme Court -- the winds of controversy swirled about the court's decisions and, unfortunately, about the imagined resignations. As I considered what was happening around our building, I thought about the calm civility of today's events. I thought of the wonderful times that we would have here today," he said.

Thomas also said he was confident Sears will "call them as you see them" and told her, "Those of us who are judges know that it is easy to judge when you already have your mind made up. It is hard to judge when you have to make your mind up."

In her acceptance speech, Sears pledged to continue her the strong push by her predecessor, Norman Fletcher, to implement a statewide indigent defense system to provide lawyers for poor people accused of crimes. She also said she hopes to focus on the plight of the family, noting that two-thirds of court filings now deal with domestic relations issues.

She ended with a call for Georgians to remember their civics lessons about why the judiciary is independent of the executive and legislative branches.

"We must resist all temptations to intimidate judges or to otherwise ask them to answer for the hard decisions that they are being required to make," she said.

"The founders of this great nation of ours intended the judicial branch of government to be a separate, independent, coequal branch of government that answers not to public opinion, polls or politicians, but only to the laws and the Constitutions of the state of Georgia and of the United States of America."

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