Supreme Court justice lectures at Law Day

By Ed Brock

In the end, the law can only work if the people of a nation make the law work.

That was the essential message of Georgia Supreme Court Justice Leah Ward Sears during Thursday's observation of Law Day in Clayton County.

Quoting English Judge Lord John Fletcher Moulton speech on "Law and Manners," Sears told an audience of lawyers and judges gathered in the ceremonial courtroom at the Harold R. Banke Justice Center about the "Domain of Obedience to the Unenforceable."

In that domain, which exists between the domain of total law and total freedom according to Moulton, human beings become "the enforcer of law upon himself."

"The real greatness of a nation, its true civilization, is measured by the extent of this area of obedience to the unenforceable," Sears said, again quoting Moulton.

Sears, the first African-American woman to serve as a Superior Court judge in Georgia and the first woman and youngest person to serve on the state's Supreme Court, added that the domain was one of "manners and morals." That morality is the real key to enforcing the law, not "getting tough on crime."

"Authority and civil order depend in a significant measure on the consent of the governed. That is, on obedience to the unenforceable," Sears said. "The more civilized and enlightened the country, the greater its dependence on the voluntary respect and support of its citizens for law and civil order. The rule of law depends on the morality of the people."

America's core morals, such as a belief in transcendent human dignity and that democracy is the "clearest political expression" of that first moral, are ideals that appeal to all people of the world. But those morals are under attack, both by people like the terrorists behind the Sept. 11 attacks and by forces within the country.

Those morals should apply to everyone and are what separate Americans from other people.

"Anyone, at least in principle, can become an American. And, in fact, anyone and everybody does," Sears said. "People come here from everywhere with a yearning to breathe free and soon enough they are as American as anyone whose family came over on the Mayflower."

Sears' speech had an impact on Steve White, incoming president of the Clayton County Bar Association.

"I think her comments were very timely for this moment in history," White said.

The CCBA also gave out several awards during the event. The winners are as follows:

For Excellence in Service to the Bar n Clayton County State Court Judge Linda Cowen.

For Service to the Community n Clayton County Superior Court Chief Judge Stephen Boswell.

The Liberty Bell Award (for a non-attorney who serves the bar association) n Ann Smith.

For the Most Pro Bono Cases Taken n Betty Williams Kirby.

For Most Pro Bono Cases Taken by a New Attorney n Joel Montgomery.

A special thanks was given to attorney Chris Montgomery for his work with the county's team members, coaches and advisors for the Regional Mock Trial competition for high school students.

"He was tireless and we can't imagine the amount of work that goes into it," White said.

The theme of this year's Law Day was the 1803 Marbury v. Madison decision by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the appointment of Judge William Marbury by outgoing President John Adams. Adams signed and sealed Marbury's appointment but Marbury had to suit President Thomas Jefferson's Secretary of State James Madison to have Madison deliver the commission to him.

In its decision the Court, under then Chief Justice John Marshall, ruled in part that Congress violated the Constitution in granting the Court the power to issue a writ of mandamus in support of Marbury.

"It was really the first time the judicial branch flexed its muscle. It's the first time they would interpret the Constitution," CCBA President Suellen Fleming said. "It is still considered one of the most important judicial decisions because it carved out the judiciary powers."