As an 8-year-old, Leah Sears ordered catalogs from elite law schools because she was determined to become a lawyer and a judge. When they arrived in the mail, she was dismayed to see so few photos of black and female students. But she was not going to let that deter her. She knew that one day a photo in one of those catalogs would be her. Last week, Sears, 50, became the first female chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. She is also the first African-American woman to preside as chief justice in any of the 50 states.
“I’ve always been used to busting through,” Sears told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Be the first black. Bust through. First woman. Bust through. Feel a lot of pain and disorientation. Do good. The other group follows.” Sears calls herself a judicial moderate, but her critics accuse her of being a liberal activist. During her 13 years as a justice, Sears was more likely to be in the majority when the court overturned a criminal conviction or a death sentence and was almost always in the majority in cases that expanded individual liberties.