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Former Georgia Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, the first African American Chief Justice for a state court in the United States, brought a crowd of more than 100 to their feet during the annual Georgia’s WIN List Legislative Breakfast last week.
Sears, who was first appointed to the state’s highest court by then Governor Zell Miller in 1992, said the appointment changed her life.
“It was a challenge to me not only because I am a woman but because, as a member of one of America’s many minorities, I grew up seeing what popular opinion had done to our nation, as far as allowing racism and bigotry in our laws and in our hearts. I had long felt that if it had not been for the judicial system in this country, many civil rights that I, and those I love, enjoy today, simply would not exist for minorities like me.”
“I was further pleased to be breaking into the “brotherhood”, as it were –because, quite frankly, that is what the judiciary was at the time as there weren’t any women. It was my intent to become a jurist who believed that judges should acknowledge we live in a modern world, one which is vastly different from the world in which our founders lived. I believe those who see our Constitution as frozen in the past are also frozen in the past, unenlightened, unwilling and unable to move forward,” she said.
Justice Sears noted public discussion has become rancorous and divisive due to polarized thinking which “reflects the idea that only some values matter.” Liberals today tend to focus largely on care for others and fairness, she said, while conservatives focus on liberty, loyalty, authority and sacredness. “Polarized thinking says my preferred values are everything and yours are nothing,” she added.
“Polarized thinking is part of the reason why women are in such bad shape in Georgia. The underlying, often unspoken, theme in this country and state is that women are simply not as important as men. For example, in Georgia no women hold U.S. congressional seats. But I can tell by just looking around this room this morning that there are women who are capable of going to congress,” she said. “In Georgia, where 53% of us are women, more than 20% of us live in poverty and are uninsured (with no plans to expand Medicaid), and women make only 81 cents for every dollar earned by a man. This is not how it should be. To change all of this, women have got to play some of the important leadership roles.”
“I believe that the leaders of this country, seeking the secret of America’s strength, will not find it in our drones or missiles, though such things can also split mountains and break rocks. Nor will it be found on Wall Street or in the largest shopping centers or across the street in the Capitol or in the most luxurious private homes on Tuxedo Drive or Cascade Road.
No, instead it will be found in the still, small voices of good Americans of integrity like you and me, many of whom are women; people who strive to separate right from wrong, to judge others as we would be judged, and who believe in their hearts in the birthright of every human being to be treated fairly.”
Justice Sears urged the crowd to
“pledge our very best efforts to find and elect leaders of integrity who will listen to such voices and follow their advice, when it is right to do so, even if it is at the expense of their own self-interest and personal gain. We ought to put good women (and men) in office who are ethical and who practice civility and good stewardship. Government can’t legislate it. Judges can’t adjudicate it. Lawyers can’t litigate it. Politicians can’t appropriate it. Only WE can orchestrate these leadership changes. ladies and gentlemen! Can we do it? Of course we can. The only question is: will we do it? I sincerely hope so, because when women come together, we win!”
The breakfast also included a report about what to expect in the upcoming legislative session from WIN List Endorsed Senator Elena Parent and Planned Parenthood Southeast President/CEO Staci Fox.
Graduates of the 2014 WIN Leadership Academy were recognized and awarded graduation certificates. Outgoing Chair Lauren Benedict was presented with a small token of our appreciation for her service to Georgia’s WIN List by incoming Chair Adrienne White.
WIN List Chair Adrienne White also announced that Executive Director Melinda Ennis Roughton will be leaving Georgia’s WIN List at the end of January. We thank Melinda for her service and wish her the best of luck and success.
Transcript of Georgia’s WIN List Speech
January 28, 2014 | Atlanta, GA
Leah Ward Sears
Thank you for your wonderful introduction.
It’s an honor to speak before such an important organization dedicated to changing the face of leadership by supporting the election of more women to public office. Hopefully, the women chosen to carry this torch will serve as effective advocates for issues important to women and children.
It was 23 years ago, around Valentine’s Day, when Governor Zell Miller made the call to me in my chambers in the Superior Court of Fulton County to, in effect, tell me that my life would be changed forever and I would become a torch bearer. He was appointing me to the Supreme Court of Georgia. It was a call I never, ever, expected. But I took it as a challenge.
It was a challenge to me not only because I am a woman but because, as a member of one of America’s many minorities, I grew up seeing what popular opinion had done to our nation, as far as allowing racism and bigotry in our laws and in our hearts. And I had long felt that if it had not been for the judicial system in this country, many civil rights that I, and those I love, enjoy today, simply would not exist for minorities like me.
Our Executive Director Melinda Ennis will be leaving Georgia’s WIN List at the end of January. We wish her all the best of health and success. She will be missed!
Below is a letter from Melinda to our members.
Dear Georgia’s WIN List Members,
It is with much regret that I must announce that I will be leaving WIN List. But, I am leaving the organization in good hands with an outstanding board, which will now be led by the amazing Adrienne White as Board Chair.
As you may know, I have been in treatment for breast cancer for the last three months, and it will continue on for several months more. While I have continued to work on behalf of WIN List, an experience like this makes you think about all aspects of one’s life.
After much reflection, I want to use this time in my life to concentrate on family (my parents are very healthy but in their 80’s) my sons and my husband. And, I want to continue on with and escalate my advocacy work against the gun violence tearing our nation and state apart. I am working with the other founders to form a 501c3 for the GunSense Georgia Coalition. And, between treatments, I will be highly active as a volunteer lobbyist in the upcoming 2015 Legislative Session.
I encourage you all to continue to support Georgia’s WIN List. I believe utterly in its mission, and have been honored to help through this last election in which we saved the seats of all of our incumbent women and sent Elena Parent to the Senate!
I wish you all a prosperous and healthy New Year.
On January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court issued simultaneous landmark decisions in the cases of Roe v. Wade, and the companion case Doe v. Bolton, which specifically overturned abortion restrictions in Georgia.
Because of the hard work and sacrifices of those who came before me, I was fortunate to be born into a world where Roe v. Wade was the law of the land. But like many women of my generation, I have been called to action by the ongoing assault on our reproductive rights by some members of our state legislature.
As the newly elected Chair of Georgia’s WIN LIST, I strongly believe the mission of this organization to be as relevant today as when it was founded 15 years ago. I have an abiding love for our state, a passion for women’s empowerment and the strength and determination to carry the torch for a new generation of women and our families.
I also invite you to join us for our annual Georgia’s WIN List Legislative Breakfast on Wednesday, January 28th at 7:30am, at Central Presbyterian Church – 201 Washington St. Atlanta, GA 30303
Our featured speaker will be Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears (ret.) along with a panel of our endorsed women legislators including: House Minority Leader Rep. Stacey Abrams, Sen. Nan Orrock, Sen. Elena Parent and Rep. Stacey Evans.
The topic will be The State of Women in Georgia. Come learn where we are, where we’re headed, and what you can do to be a part of change.
Thank you for your continued support of Georgia’s WIN List,
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