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Leah Ward Sears

In office
June 28, 2005 – June 30, 2009
Appointed by Zell Miller
Preceded by Norman S. Fletcher
Succeeded by Carol Hunstein

Born June 13, 1955 (1955-06-13) (age 54)
Heidelberg, Germany
Spouse(s) Haskell Ward
Alma mater Cornell University
Emory University School of Law

Leah Ward Sears (born June 13, 1955) is the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the U.S. state of Georgia and former Chair of the Judicial Council of Georgia, the $200 million agency in charge of the state judicial system. When sworn in on June 28, 2005, Sears became the first African-American female Chief Justice in the United States. When she was first appointed as justice in 1992 by then-Governor Zell Miller, she became the first woman and youngest person to sit on the Supreme Court of Georgia.


Early life and education

The daughter of United States Army Colonel Thomas E. Sears and Onnye Jean Sears, she was born in Heidelberg, Germany, but the family eventually settled in Savannah, Georgia, where she attended and graduated from high school.

Sears received a Bachelor of Science from Cornell University in 1976, her Juris Doctor from Emory University School of Law in 1980, and a Master of Laws from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1995. At Cornell, Sears was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated[1] and the Quill and Dagger society. She holds honorary degrees from Morehouse College, Clark-Atlanta University, LaGrange College, Piedmont College, and Spelman College.

Professional career

After graduating from law school, Sears was an attorney from 1980 until 1985 with the Atlanta law firm Alston & Bird. For many years she was also an Adjunct Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law.


Judicial career

Sears was appointed by then-Mayor Andrew Young to the City of Atlanta Traffic Court in 1985. She then became a Superior Court judge in 1988 (the first African-American woman to hold that position in the state). She became a state Supreme Court justice in 1992.

Although historically a non-partisan election, the Georgia Republican Party and Georgia Christian Coalition targeted Sears for defeat in 2004. Based in large part on her record, she defeated her challenger with 62 percent of the vote.

Sears announced in October 2008 that she would resign from the state Supreme Court at the end of June 2009 when her term as Chief Justice ended. [2]

Possible nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court

Sears is considered a potential future U.S. Supreme Court nominee by President Barack Obama to become a Supreme Court Justice.[3]

Consideration as a law school dean

Sears was named in January 2009 as one of five finalists to become dean of the University of Maryland School of Law.[4] However, in February 2009, Sears withdrew her name from consideration, in order to pursue other opportunities.[5]

Return to private legal practice

On May 13, 2009, Sears announced that she will join the Atlanta offices of the large law firm Schiff Hardin, despite being thought to be in consideration for a U.S. Supreme Court vacancy.[6] Sears will work on a half-time basis for the first year, with a particular interest in the firm's appellate work and white-collar crime work.[7][8] "I'm going full steam ahead," Sears told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.[9]

After leaving the court, Sears announced that she would teach a course in family law at the University of Georgia Law School and had accepted a fellowship at the Institute of American Values.[10]


Sears currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband Haskell Ward, former Deputy Mayor of New York City under Mayor Ed Koch. She is the mother of Addison Sears-Collins and Brennan Sears-Collins. Sears and her first husband, Love Collins III, divorced in 1994.[11]

Sears is friends with Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, due to their home towns in southeastern Georgia.[12]

Notable Decisions, Career History, Organization Memberships and Awards

Notable decisions

Career History

  • Alston & Bird Attorneys at Law, Atlanta, GA, lawyer, 1980-1985
  • City Court of Atlanta, traffic court judge, 1985-1987
  • Fulton Superior Court, Atlanta, judge, 1988-1992
  • State Supreme Court of Georgia, justice, 1992-2009
  • Founder of Battered Women's Project of Columbus, GA

Organization Membership

  • National Association of Women's Judges
  • Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys(founding president)
  • Chair, Chief Justice's Commission on Professionalism
  • Chair, Supreme Court Commission on Civil Justice
  • Chair, Supreme Court's Commission on Marriage, Children and Families
  • Georgia Tech Advisory Board
  • Links, Incorporated
  • Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.


  • NAACP award for community service
  • 2006 Trumpet Award-Law
  • 2008 Honoree--Second Annual Wayne A. McCoy Memorial Historymaker's Program
  • 2007-2009 Rosalynn Carter Fellow in Public Policy
  • Leadership Atlanta

See also


External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
Norman S. Fletcher
Chief Justices of the Supreme Court of Georgia
Succeeded by
Carol W. Hunstein


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