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Posted by on Jun 4, 2009 in At TMV | 1 comment

Leah Ward Sears ‘Stumped on Gay Marriage’

That’s the AJC headline on a story about an appearance by retiring chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, Leah Ward Sears, at the Atlanta Press Club Tuesday:

Asked whether the U.S. Constitution would require Georgians to recognize the marriages of gay Iowans if they moved to the state, she first deferred to a lesser document: The state constitution banned gay marriage in 2004.

Pressed on whether the federal parchment —- which says states will accept public acts, records and judicial proceedings from other states —- would nullify the Georgia amendment, the justice found refuge in ambiguity.

“I’m not sure,” said Sears, who said she hadn’t mulled the issue that promises a political firestorm when gay couples from Iowa and Massachusetts demand other states recognize their unions.

Said to have been a potential Obama pick for the Souter seat, Sears has an interesting history on gay-rights issues:

She ruled with the court in throwing out Georgia’s hate-crimes law in 2004 as “unconstitutionally vague”; reinstating Georgia’s gay marriage ban in 2006; declining to hear an appeal from a biological mother who wanted to terminate the parental rights of her former lesbian partner in 2007, a move viewed as a victory by gay-rights advocates; and tossing out Georgia’s anti-sodomy law.

She was featured in the WaPo recently for her unlikely friendship with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.  Thomas had read about political attacks against Sears and called to say he didn’t like it:

Sears grew up in Savannah. Thomas was reared 11 miles away in Pin Point. Her family was middle class; his, poor. But in those days, families knew families, Douglass said. Thomas and Sears had mutual friends but did not befriend each other until he made the call. Theirs is one of the few lasting bonds Thomas has in the black legal community because his conservative opinions on issues such as voting rights, affirmative action and the power of the federal government to correct injustices have left him alienated by many.

The old lions of the civil rights movement in Georgia and elsewhere have never accepted Thomas as heir to the late Justice Thurgood Marshall’s seat and legacy… Sears, who was the first black woman to serve as chief justice of any state supreme court, has been more popular with them. She calls herself a “moderate with a progressive streak,” and during her 17 years on the Georgia Supreme Court, she has sided with opinions that overturned the state’s anti-sodomy law, which targeted gays, and criticized use of the electric chair as cruel and unusual punishment, rulings popular with the civil rights community.

So now that she’s retiring, what’s she planning to do?

She dismissed a question of whether she would run for governor. Her interests are joining a New York think tank that seeks to promote values such as thrift and marriage, teaching a class at the University of Georgia and being a partner at the Atlanta branch of Schiff Hardin, a 400-member law firm based in Chicago, she said.

She also pledged she would not jail the current governor to resolve a power struggle over his demand that the judiciary cut its budget. “Never,” she said. “We’re friends.”

With friends like those, hers is a career to watch.

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