Why Isn’t the Name Leah Ward Sears on the Short List for SCOTUS?
The announcement of the retirement of US Supreme Court judge Stephen Breyer has generated a plethora of projected successors and especially after word leaked from “reliable” sources that U. S. President Joseph Biden would keep a campaign promise to nominate a Black woman as a replacement.
We wish them all well. Conversely, this writer and the newspaper I write for are pondering why the name of former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears was not included on that list. John B. Smith, Jr., successor to his father the late John B. Smith, Sr., as Publisher/Editor/CEO of The Atlanta Inquirer, put his comments a bit stronger. “While I am excited and remain encouraged that U. S. President Joe Biden is considering a Black female and other minorities for the position of Supreme Court justice, I am extremely disappointed that the name of Judge Leah Ward Sears has not come up as a contender on the short list for the U. S. Supreme Court Justice, replacing the soon-to-be retired Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Judge Sears is former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia and is the first Black female chief justice of a state supreme court in the United States, appointed as justice in 1992 by then Georgia Governor Zell Miller. I intend to throw the full weight of this 61-year-old newspaper behind her possible nomination.”
“No question,” said Maynard Eaton, a six-time Emmy award winning reporter at Atlanta station WXIA-TV (11 Alive) and current communications director for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “She is the most competent male or female jurist I have ever interviewed. Her name should have been right at the top of the list of possible successors.” Interestingly, when news of Breyer’s retirement plans hit the local press on January 26th, Sears name was not mentioned by any local media.
To read her bio has to make one wonder how her name didn’t show up on this current perspective list or how she was “shortlisted” from a SCOTUS appointment by the last two sitting presidents.
Sears, just 5 months and some days before celebrating her 67th birthday, was born June 3, 1955 in Heidelberg, Germany to Army Colonel and Mrs. Thomas E Sears (yes, she was a military brat). The family eventually settled in Savannah, Georgia. Sears graduated from historic Alfred E. Beach High School in 1972. She matriculated to Cornell University, obtained her bachelor’s degree and became a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. She went on to get her law degree from Atlanta’s Emory University in 1980, followed by a Master’s law degree from the University of Virginia in 1985. She practiced law and taught in Atlanta and Athens until appointed by former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young to the City of Atlanta traffic court in 1985. Three years later, Judge Sears became Georgia’s first Black female Superior Court judge.
She wasn’t finished.
Seven years after making court history, she became Justice Leah Sears as the second African-American and first Black female judge on the Georgia Supreme Court. Attempts by some Republican led groups to get her off the high court bench (which also targeted other Black female judges in the state) failed miserably and led to her election as chief justice of the high court in 2005. She also set history a third time by becoming the first Black female Chief Justice of any Supreme Court in the United States. In a TV interview on Eaton’s cable TV show “Talk to Me” in 2020, the former Chief Justice talked about the need for reform in the judicial system. Her comments then reflected similar views on the same subject from outcoming SCOTUS Justice Breyer. “Courts are not supposed to be partisan. The law is supposed to be blind. If we want the court system to survive, there has to be reform. The Supreme Court has to return to the non-partisan stance it once held. I’m not naive. The high court has become a political branch of government.”
Should President Biden send her name to the US Senate as a nominee to the high court, it would be her third time. But as the adage goes, could this third time be the charm?