Leah Ward Sears (born June 13, 1955) is an American jurist and former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia. Sears was the first African-American female Chief Justice in the United States. When she was first appointed as justice in 1992 by Governor Zell Miller, she became the first woman and youngest person to sit on the Georgia’s Supreme Court.
Leah Ward Sears was born in Heidelberg, Germany to United States Army Colonel Thomas E. Sears and Onnye Jean Sears. The family eventually settled in Savannah, Georgia, where she attended and graduated from Savannah High School.
Sears received a B.S. from Cornell University in 1976, her Juris Doctor from Emory University School of Law in 1980, and a Master of Laws from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1995. At Cornell, Sears was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and the Quill and Dagger society. She holds honorary degrees from Morehouse College, Clark-Atlanta University, LaGrange College, Piedmont College, and Spelman College.
After graduating from law school, Sears was an attorney from 1980 until 1985 with the Atlanta law firm Alston & Bird. For many years she was also an adjunct Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law.
Sears was appointed by Mayor Andrew Young to the City of Atlanta Traffic Court in 1985. She then became a Superior Court judge in 1988, becoming the first African-American woman to hold that position in the state.
Sears was appointed as a state Supreme Court justice in 1992. Twelve years later, in what is historically a non-partisan election, the Georgia Republican Party and Georgia Christian Coalition targeted Sears for defeat in 2004. However, she easily defeated her challenger with 62 percent of the vote, and became Chief Justice of the Court in June 2005.
Sears announced in October 2008 that she would resign from the state Supreme Court at the end of June 2009 when her term as Chief Justice ended.
Following her resignation from the Court, Sears was named as one of five finalists to become dean of the University of Maryland School of Law. However, in February 2009, Sears withdrew her name from consideration, in order to pursue other opportunities. Sears then taught courses in family law at the University of Georgia Law School and accepted a fellowship at the Institute for American Values.
On May 13, 2009, Sears announced that she would join the Atlanta offices of the large law firm Schiff Hardin. Sears was also thought to be in consideration for a U.S. Supreme Court vacancy. Sears will work on a half-time basis for the first year, with a particular interest in the firm’s appellate work and white-collar crime work. “I’m going full steam ahead,” Sears told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Sears currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband Haskell Ward, former Deputy Mayor of New York City under Mayor Ed Koch. She is the mother of Addison Sears-Collins and Brennan Sears-Collins. Sears and her first husband, Love Collins III, divorced in 1994.
Sears is friends with Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, due to their home towns in southeastern Georgia.
Sears have been awarded