CONYERS - Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears spoke Thursday on how the social problems facing the country could be best be addressed through a new emphasis placed on the importance of marriage.
Speaking at the Conyers Rotary Club, Sears said an overload of court cases in Georgia's courts could be attributed to the increase in divorce, single-parent families and juvenile crime over the past 40 years.
Sears said a lot of attention is given to criminal cases, but cases involving families have had a larger impact on courts.
She noted that in 2007 there were about 355,000 case filed in Georgia courts with 123,000 representing criminal cases. The remaining 223,000 were civil cases with 65 percent of those cases pertaining to domestic relations.
Ward said she believes the country has gotten away from making marriage a goal in life and many have forgotten that having children requires a long-term commitment that is best served in a marriage.
"For everybody, having a child is considered a rite of passage, and I would agree with that," she said. "But I also contend that marriage to that child's mother or father should also be a rite of passage."
Sears told the group that government can only do so much to address a social issue like marriage. She believes the best way to start addressing the issue is for people to start talking about it.
She compared the issue of marriage now as being no different than other issues that Americans have dealt with such as indoor smoking or requiring seat belts to be worn while driving.
"I have faith in Americans that they can get the job done if they put their minds to it," she said.
Sears was appointed to the Georgia Supreme Court in 1992 by Gov. Zell Miller and became the first woman in Georgia to win a contested statewide election to retain her position on the court.
In 2005, she became the first woman to serve as chief justice on Georgia's highest court. She recently announced her intention to retire when her term ends next month. She told Rotarians she plans to spend time teaching and advocating. She has been identified as a possible candidate to replace Justice David Souter on the U.S. Supreme Court.
She declined to comment on the selection process for the U.S. Supreme Court, but discussed what being named among the other possible Supreme Court candidates has meant to her.
"The different part has been not just dealing with the (Atlanta Journal-Constitution), but also the New York Times, the Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle," she said.
"Also, it's been interesting to see the parodies of me on YouTube and hearing a lot about myself from (Sean) Hannity," Ward said. "Some people say it's been rough, but I've run a local campaign and two statewide campaigns, so I can handle it. I'm a big girl."
Jay Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org