Getting Ready for a SCOTUS Pick?

Georgia’s CJ is stepping down.

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears says she’ll leave the highest court in the state when her term as Chief ends on June 30, 2009.

Appointed by then Gov. Zell Miller in 1992, Sears became the youngest and first woman to serve on the state Supreme Court. In 2005, she became Chief Justice — the first African-American woman in the United States to do so.


  1. The Comma Guy says:

    Will this be an open election? Surprised that CJ Sears didn’t want to wait and see who wins the Governor election and allow them to appoint someone.

    Of course if it is an open election, should we go ahead and register

  2. Chris says:

    I’d think her standing for SCOTUS would be better if she were a sitting SCOGA Justice.

    However, I thought this was an elected position. If she resigns mid-term does the Gov get to pick the replacement vs the voters? Given the Trend-to-Blue I’d think she’d take her chances the voters would elect a more liberal judge than Sonny would appoint.

    Of course, Sonny is hardly conservative so she might be going with the Democrat she Knows vs taking her chances with the electorate.

  3. Sarawara says:

    Perdue will get to choose her replacement, she could have waited to retire in 2010 when the seat is up for re-election but she decided not to. I think she’d prefer to have one person appointed based on qualifications (even if judicially conservative), rather than another clown car election like we’re seeing on the Court of Appeals now.

  4. SavannahDem says:

    Her press release is internally inconsistent:

    “Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears announced today that she will leave the Supreme Court of Georgia on June 30, 2009, when her term as Chief comes to an end. She will not seek reelection when her six-year term as a justice ends Dec. 31, 2010.”

    However, I read it to mean that she will no longer be Chief on June 30, 2009, and will serve the remainder of her term retiring on Dec. 31, 2010.

    Hopefully we’ll get some clarification about her intent later today.

  5. Sarawara says:

    I don’t think it is inconsistent at all, she was pretty clear that she will leave the Court in June of next year. She mentioned the rest of her term as Justice because there will be a court vacancy for the remainder of that term that will need to be filled by the governor. Whoever is picked will then have to run for re-election in 2010.

  6. Doug Deal says:


    It is not inconsistent, but it may be incorrect. As stated, it says that she will leave the court when she is no longer Chief Justice, and obviously will not be running for re-election for her term that expires in Dec 2010. (i.e. it will be vacant from the day her role as Chief expires).

  7. ChuckEaton says:

    If you read the AJC interview on her retirement, Sears makes it very clear she plans on leaving her term early and Sonny Perdue will be appointing her replacement.

  8. OleDirtyBarrister says:

    The status of Chief Justice is not perfectly aligned with the electoral term for a justice. Her stint as CJ would end before the election, and if she stayed, another one rotate as CJ and she would be an associate justice again.

    She sucks enough on the Georgia court, I would undertake all efforts to keep her from doing any real harm as a justice on SCOTUS. She had no accomplishments as an attorney, and Zell put her on there based on race and gender alone.

    A whole lot of Zell’s appointments at the trial court level were based on race and gender, and virtually all of them suck. They were all too young and inexperienced, and the attorneys that appear before them and the clients that pay the attorneys to appear have suffered for those poor appointments.

  9. Bucky Plyler says:

    I agree with OleDirtyBarrister. However, if Zell were making appointments today, I bet we’d have some better judges.

  10. SavannahDem says:

    Chuck – thanks, the AJC interview was not up when I posted earlier.

    I must say that I’m surprised that she would choose to have lame-duck Sonny appoint a successor rather than serving out the term. Odd choice.

  11. drjay says:

    sd–these judges almost universally retire mid term and have a successor appointed–the von bremen, mcguire thing is pretty unusual–i’ve commented on it before and someone (i believe it was erick) said something along the lines of the judges in general prefering appointments to open elections b/c they don’t really care for the idea of elected judges anyway–in fact she ascended to the bench via appointment herself back in the early 90’s–as a “savannah dem” depending on how old you are –you may remember her father col. sears who was on the sav’h/chatham school board back in the day–my mother went to high school w/ her honor way back when as well

  12. Dash Riptide says:

    What the Daily Report article on this hints at is that Justice Sears wants to get paid for a change. Not only did Governor Purdue veto the judicial pay raises this year, but Sears and the other justices are also faced with the prospect of taking monthly furloughs for perhaps years that would amount to fictional days off with no relief from the workload. To add insult to injury, furloughed justices will effectively be making less money than the judges on the Court of Appeals, who have opted to resort to cannibalizing staff in order to protect their own salaries. The justices no doubt understand that going with the Donner Party approach employed by the Court of Appeals is beneath the dignity of their high offices and would otherwise be far worse for institutional morale than furloughs (in which the justices also elect to participate along with their staffs), but the prospect of constraining themselves to “do the right thing” must be demoralizing for the justices just the same. Why should Justice Sears put up with all of that for an additional 18 months just to force an open seat election when she sees that much greener pastures await?

  13. SavannahDem says:

    Dr. Jay – there are a number of Superior Court judges in my part of the state who are choosing to retire at the end of their terms so that Perdue won’t appoint a successor. The seat in the Atlantic Circuit won by Jay Stewart comes to mind.

    Dash – you pose this question: “Why should Justice Sears put up with all of that for an additional 18 months just to force an open seat election when she sees that much greener pastures await?”

    I dunno, maybe because she has a judicial philosophy that Perdue clearly does not share…

  14. Maybe, just maybe, she’s worried that someone more Conservative than Perdue may get elected and maybe she doesn’t like elections for SC positions.

    I mean, who really knows who we are electing to Court of Appeals? Mostly middle to high grade political junkies and lawyers. That leaves quite a large portion of the state picking a Judge without much knowledge on the matter.

  15. Dash Riptide says:

    Dash – you pose this question: “Why should Justice Sears put up with all of that for an additional 18 months just to force an open seat election when she sees that much greener pastures await?”

    I dunno, maybe because she has a judicial philosophy that Perdue clearly does not share…


    So she should sacrifice the best timing for her just to create an opportunity for some relative unknown with unpredictable political views whose name likely appears on the first page of the bar directory? I don’t see the point. 18 months is a long time to sacrifice just to spite Purdue.

  16. drjay says:

    savdem–one judge from claxton aside, judges just giving up their seats at election time has been the exception, not the rule–now i will admit that may change some now b/c unless sonny appointed them the only other “gop” judges would have had to have been appointed in the 1870’s so yes there may be some picked by carter, busbee, harris, etc… folks ready to retire that don’t care for the idea of perdue picking their successors even more than they generally don’t care for the idea of the unwashed masses picking them…

  17. drjay says:

    also i think the gist of the headline is she is maybe moving to dc–she may just be preparing us for an earlier imminent departure–i imagine a couple of the old liberal hangers on in dc will retire from scotus on 1-21-09 after maobama is innagurated…

  18. The Comma Guy says:

    Much love to you too Bill!


    Usually when a judge declines to run for re-election, creating an open seat it is a direct slight to the Governor. There are several circuits not happy with Sonny right now for his recent appointment choices (or the names on the short list) so many judges are hanging on until their terms end rather than worry that Sonny is going to continue to put incompetent, political pay-backs on the bench. Many of these places only have 3-6 judges so it’s a tight group, not usually too happy to have light-weight outsiders brought into the fold.

    This will be interesting in that Sonny will have appointed 2 of the 7 GA Supreme Court Justices. The last time he had a vacancy, he appointed his own personal lawyer – Harold Melton – to the court. I’m thinking that Robert Hightower, who was once a rumored favorite to run for AG, might be the choice.

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