Potential Supreme Court Nominee Comes Under Fire for Joining Think Tank

By Kevin Fayle on May 15, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The AP is reporting that gay rights groups have come out against Georgia Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears' decision to join a think tank founded by an opponent of gay marriage.

Some consider Sears - the first black chief justice of a state supreme court - to be in the running to fill the seat on the Supreme Court vacated by Justice Souter's retirement. 
The Institute for American Values was founded by David Blankenhorn, who has stated that extending marriage rights to same-sex couples "definitively undermines" the institution of marriage.  Sears has worked towards reducing the number of divorces in the United States, but has not come out with a position on gay marriage since the Georgia Supreme Court may have to rule on the issue one day.  Gay rights groups supported Sears' in her last election bid.

Sears claims that her involvement with the institute springs from a desire to strengthen the institution of marriage through a reduction in divorce.

The rights groups' criticism here may be justified: after all, the institute's founder seems to rule out the possibility of equality for homosexual couples, and Sears' association with the organization could be seen as an endorsement of his views.

Sears denies this, however, stating that the institute's members don't all share the same opinion on the issue.  She wrote to the AP that "Blankenhorn happens to be on one side of this issue, and there are those on the other side."

Besides, do we really want a Supreme Court justice who isn't willing to at least examine all viewpoints?  Judges should be able to balance the issues and come up with the most just outcome.  From that angle, a judge who has exposed herself to many differing and competing ideologies would be a benefit, not a detriment.

And are we willing to declare jurists guilty by association, even when that association is for the purposes of debate and deliberation?

Politics obviously plays a part here, and the whole uproar just goes to show that even well-intentioned affiliations can become political liabilities in a hurry.

Orin Kerr has an entertaining article about the ideal Supreme Court justice's resume over at the Volokh Conspiracy.  He writes that, by the time the potential justice accumulates the perfect balance of experience, she will have hit the ripe old age of 153.

Perhaps Kerr should add that, along the way, the candidate should talk to no one and join no organization. 

Best to play it safe, after all.
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