Still Moving Forward

Justice Leah Ward Sears 80L looks back in new biography

Distinguished Career: Leah Ward Sears

Leah Ward Sears 80L is the subject of a new biography by Rebecca Shriver Davis, Justice Leah Ward Sears: Seizing Serendipity. The first woman and youngest justice to sit on the Supreme Court of Georgia, Sears later became the first African American woman to serve as chief justice of any state supreme court in the country.

The biography—the first on Sears—traces her childhood in a military family through her time at Emory Law, her early work as an attorney, her rise through Georgia’s court systems, and her career path after leaving the supreme court in 2009. The title celebrates “how Sears made her own luck by demonstrating a sharpness of mind and sagacious insight, a capacity for grueling hard work, and a relentless drive to succeed.”

“Justice Leah Ward Sears is important not only because it tells Justice Sears’s remarkable personal story and discusses her many contributions to law and history, but also because it does all of that in the context of political, legal, and electoral events important to all of us,” writes Angela J. Davis, author of Arbitrary Justice: The Power of the American Prosecutor.

In a 2006 interview with Emory Magazine about her appointment as chief justice, Sears described the challenges of serving on Georgia’s supreme court as an African American woman—a touchstone of the new biography. Asked how she became so confident, she answered, “I’m not. I’m scared all the time. What I decided was, when I felt down or not confident, I would nonetheless move forward in spite of my fears. I would just not let it get the best of me. I would move forward anyway.”

Sears is now a litigation partner with Atlanta firm Smith, Gambrell, and Russell, and serves as an Emory trustee.

Davis is an associate professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology and founding director of the Office of Pre-Law Advising at Georgia Southern University.

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