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October 26, 2007

A few reflections on the Genarlow Wilson case and the Georgia Supreme Court

Full_court2005_optimThe Georgia Supreme Court's ruling in the Genarlow Wilson case (discussed here) has restored my faith in the willingness of at least some judges to let reality and common-sense enter into their analysis of the cruel and unusual punishment clause.  That said, I remain saddened that prosecutorial tunnel-vision prevented Genarlow from receiving justice much sooner. 

Though a lot could and surely will be said about the Georgia Supreme Court's ruling and its broader significance, I find interesting to note the racial and gender breakdown of ruling in a case that has had lots of racial and gender dynamics in play throughout. 

The majority opinion was authored by Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, who according to the Court's website, "was the first African-American woman to serve as Superior Court Judge in Georgia [and upon appointment in 1992 became] the first woman and the youngest person ever to serve on Georgia's Supreme Court."  Joining her opinion was Justice Carol Hunstein (the only other woman on the Court), Justice Robert Benham (one of two African-American men on this Court) and Justice Hugh Thompson (who may now seem to Wilson supporters to be pretty fly for a white guy).  Justice George Carley authored the dissent, and he was joined by Justices Harris Hines and Harold Melton.  Justice Melton is the other African-American man on the Court and its newest member.

Lots of observations could be made based on these demographics and the voting pattern they produced in the Wilson case.  However, I find most striking simply how much more diverse the Georgia Supreme Court is than the U.S. Supreme Court.  Despite having nine members, SCOTUS has never had more than one active African-American justice, has never had an African-American female justice, and now only has a single female justice.  But, in the deep south state of Georgia, Genarlow Wilson's fate was in the hands of a seven-member court with three African-American jurists, two female jurists, and an African-American woman as the Chief.

Some (dated) Wilson posts discussing race, gender and related issues:

October 26, 2007 at 03:05 PM | Permalink


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So if Janice Brown were nominated to SCOTUS, you would support her?

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Oct 26, 2007 3:09:30 PM

If anyone cares, Kent, the answer to your question is a resounding yes. Indeed, I suggested as much in this post a few years ago:

Posted by: Doug B. | Oct 26, 2007 3:30:31 PM

Justice Carley might make a good Supreme Court Justice as well.

Posted by: | Oct 26, 2007 4:11:38 PM

Is the point of this post that things like law, statutory text and precedent are the domain of old male WASPs?

Posted by: | Oct 26, 2007 4:18:52 PM

My apologies for the previous comment. After reading through the opinion again, I still agree with the dissent, but the majority's analysis looks a bit stronger than I'd initially thought (i.e. it's a strong good faith argument for a position with which I disagree).

Posted by: 4:18:52 | Oct 27, 2007 10:49:51 AM

Might be worth noting that Georgia's population is roughly 30% African-American, whereas the population of the United States as a whole is roughly 13% African-American.

Posted by: dcuer | Oct 28, 2007 2:47:46 PM

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