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Ga. gets 1st black female chief

Election makes US bench history

ATLANTA -- A black female state Supreme Court justice who overcame Republican efforts to block her reelection took the oath of the chief justice's office, with her longtime friend US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas saying he never thought he would witness such an event.

Leah Sears is the first black woman to head the highest appeals court in any state, according to the National Center for State Courts, based in Williamsburg, Va. She will take office tomorrow, becoming the first woman to serve as chief justice in Georgia.

Sears vowed to ''strive mightily to uphold the independence and integrity" of the judiciary.

Thomas, a longtime friend who is also a native of the Savannah area, said ''my pride runs deep as a human being, as a member of the judiciary, and as a Georgian."

''I never thought that in my lifetime I would be able to witness a black woman as the chief justice of the state of Georgia's Supreme Court," he said.

Sears, 50, was branded an activist judge by Governor Sonny Perdue and other Republicans, but she won a nonpartisan race last year for a third six-year term with 62 percent of the vote.

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